Use Of Twitter (Or Any Social Platform) Is Not Black And White

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm recently (re) shared some data from PEW Research Center, and added his own commentary on how media companies are still “doing it wrong” on Twitter.

While I agree with the premise that many brands of media could improve their use of Twitter, I don’t actually think there is a “right” or “wrong” way to use it. Or any social platform for that matter.

Let’s go through a few of Mathew’s comments:

Unfortunately, it also shows that the main thing most (media outlets) do with those accounts — and the main thing most of their reporters also do — is simply broadcast links to their own content all day long.

…I suspect this is because most media outlets have simply plugged an RSS feed or other automated process into their branded Twitter account, pumping links out and hoping to drive traffic to those stories.

Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with this. This report is only looking at data from a few major news outlets, but in fact many new, socially sophisticated media companies are using Twitter like this.

As an example readers here are familiar with, check out Techdirt on Twitter. Their brand account is basically a feed of content. Techdirt focuses their effort at the source and is interested in growing their community in a way that is platform agnostic. By doing this, they have nurtured an extremely active community across the web. Not just Twitter – their stories frequently receive in the 100+ range of on-site comments, break the hot threshold on sites like Reddit and Stumble and are mentioned / linked consistently at any given time by Twitter users as well.

The point? Your brand of media absolutely can use Twitter as a feed if you have a holistic digital strategy and provide a legitimate reason for users to join the community. If your source content and the people producing it are definitive leaders in your category and providing value, that value is and appreciated / reciprocated by an activated web community. For some approaches, Twitter might just be another path in to your community as a feed.

But one of the biggest flaws in the behavior that the Pew report describes doesn’t have anything to do with links: it’s the fact that none of these major news outlets are using Twitter to ask their readers or viewers for help with news stories, or for their opinions about something the organization has done.

I agree with Mathew, in an ideal world a brand would both listen and respond / solicit feedback across platforms. But there are many ways to ask your community to input on stories. My main problem with this comment is it is purely about Twitter. And the social web is more than Twitter – what about Facebook, Reddit, blogs, etc? It’s just one (albeit powerful) channel in a mix of many.

But apart from the other factors that hold many outlets and individual journalists back when it comes to engaging with readers through social media — fear, a lack of time, a lack of knowledge about the benefits, etc. — some organizations have only themselves to blame, because their blinkered social-media policies handcuff most of their staff by preventing them from acting like human beings…

This last comment is spot on. Media professionals need to be set free and empowered to thread, research and connect in public on the social web. Unfortunately this seems to be the exception, not the norm. The recent story of Men’s Health editor Larry Carlat being given the ultimatum between keeping his job or deleting his Twitter account is just the latest example of a generation of media who cling to the past.

But overall, I don’t agree that there are hard and fast rules to how you should use other people’s platforms. Each brand should flesh out a digital strategy at the macro level, then translate it into use of other networks. It might involve engagement in social outposts such as Twitter, but it might not (pending resources, goals, etc). The answer, as it always is in a changing media landscape, is ‘it depends.’