On Feb. 15, the Poynter Institute’s Jeff Sonderman offered a six-pack of tips from Social Media Week. I’ll highlight one about my favourite SM platform — Twitter:
1. Why Twitter matters
If Twitter is a key news source for only 2 percent of Americans, according to a Pew survey, why does it get so much time and attention from the media? Because Twitter users are what I call the “early adopters” of content and information.
Just as technology products pass first through a small set of influential early adopters who tell everyone else whether to buy them, content has early adopters online. By another name we might call them “news junkies” who watch the news most closely and alert a larger circle of friends to the important stuff.
As ABC News’ Rick Klein put it: “I believe in the 2 percent figure, but it’s the right 2 percent.” In political news, for instance, Klein said Twitter reaches other reporters and political operatives, who drive the news cycle for everyone else.
My gut feeling is that people who are on Twitter tend to be more engaged in news and have a prediliction for sharing*.
* Big mistake, thinking everyone’s like me :)
I also think of Twitter as a good seeding source. From Twitter, information can then be shared through other networks, such as blogs, Facebook and Google Plus.
If the tweet has enough impact, it will filter up to the wire services and other news organizations, and become what we traditionally think of as news.
But it’s also useful to remember Twitter has a high noise-to-signal ratio. And if you compare the trending list to what the most-popular stories are on major Canadian websites, you will notice a divergence.
So, yes, Twitter can be a great news source. But study the trending lists, and you’ll see a Seinfeldian tendency for it to be the source of a lot of talk about nothing.
Twitter itself wants to be seen as the new newswire, according to a concurrent post by Sonderman.
He curated some tweets about a speech by Twitter’s Chloe Sladden, the company’s director of content and programming, to a Future of News conference at Stanford University.
It’s interesting how both Facebook and Twitter have been pushing journalists to make more use of their services.
Why? Because ordinary people don’t have that much to say which is newsworthy.
Mathew Ingram might take issue with that.
In a Feb. 13 GigaOM post headlined Twitter and the incredible shrinking news cycle, the veteran technology writer noted the first tweet about Whitney Houston dying came from the niece of a woman who worked for the singer.
I wasn’t commenting directly on Ingram’s post, but my friend Sarah Millar posted a link on Google Plus (based on the Mashable story picked up by CNN, Twitter: Often first, but not always right), but I think my reaction is still valid:
Unless you’re the news originator, news reporting is, by definition, reactive. And there’s always been a filtering up process. In 1986, I attended an Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association event in which the then-ME of the Edmonton Journal joked that it was nice to finally see those journos whose stories his paper had so often stolen.
If someone with a connection to the object of the news (in this case, the niece of WH’s hair stylist), taps out a tweet, you’re going to get scooped.
But that’s why it’s so incumbent on the media to get it right. I RTed the NYT and AP that night, because I trust them.
Unless I personally knew the hairstylist’s niece, I certainly wouldn’t have written a ‘Whitney is dead’ story based solely on her tweet.
I probably wouldn’t have RTed until more info came in. Too many pranksters and too much possibility for error (Gordon Lightfoot).
I guess another question I would ask is how many followers Aja Dior M. had before the Whitney death tweet?
How did people first learn about Houston’s demise? All I can say is I didn’t learn about it from Aja or from a second citizen tweet. I learned about it from an AP tweet.
“It’s worth noting that neither tweet received much attention prior to the AP reporting the news,” wrote Mashable’s Pete Cashmore.
I would argue that if Twitter was such a robust news system for amateur newshounds, why is the company trying to lure more pro journalists and news organizations into making Twitter their first stop?