Teach me how to Twitter

In my first blog post I raised the issue about whether or not professional journalists working for news organisations should hold two separate Twitter accounts, one for personal use and one for professional, work-related use. I raised this topic in light of the ordeal concerning The Independent’s journalist Guy Adams, who posted bias and negative comments about another American news organisation (@NBCOlympics, @NBCNews), that were broadcasting the Olympics.

However, in this week’s Online Journalism lecture special guest speaker 612ABC Brisbane radio announcer and fanatical tweeter Spencer Howson, spoke about his motto when it comes to what you post on Twitter.

SpencerHowson said in the lecture “when I am on air at work I tweet as ABC”. But when he is not on air he tweets as himself. His mantra about tweeting is “As On Air” in the sense that whatever he posts he does so as if he was on air.

Most people know the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) is a government funded non commercialised organisation and therefore the mentioning of products, organisations or companies is prohibited unless it is integral to a news story. For SpencerHowson this would mean there are limits to what he can and can’t say on Twitter all day every day. Anytime he has a bad experience at a restaurant or has some juicy gossip about a particular organisation he can’t or he won’t talk about it online. His right to free speech is handicapped by the news organisation he works for.

To me, it seems Twitter is primarily being used for corporate and professional use, unlike Facebook, which is being used more for relaxed, personal social engagement with friends. With Twitter it seems as though everyone is treading on eggs shells about what they post. For example, as raised in the lecture, when young up-and-coming journalism students are tweeting as themselves they must be careful they don’t engage too heavily on political commentary, especially in a bias or derogatory way because it could come back to haunt them in future years as a professional journalist.

Here is a snap shot of what my Twitter feed looks like. Take not on the style in which the news sites tweet and how frequently new comments are posted. Source: Kate Leonard-Jones

The Poynter Institute wrote a ‘how to’ guide about ‘what every young journalist should know about Twitter’ and included a few key points we should abide by:

1. Assume everything you tweet is public, even from a private account.

2. Tweet with purpose and be professional.

3. Add value with each tweet and see the bigger picture.

4. Don’t hog the Twitter stream.

5. When possible write posts that are shorter than 140 characters (which is completely the opposite to what we are being taught in our QUT journalism degree – where we are told to use the entire 140 characters if we can).

6. Show where you got your information from. Give credit to the original sources. But remember to include on your Twitter page – “RT are not endorsements”.

7. Be responsive –“Respond to followers in a timely, courteous way,” Poynter said. “Twitter is a conversation, not a broadcast.”

It was made apparent, in the Online Journalism lecture, that Twitter is very much a key utensil in driving people to listen to the radio, engaging them in conversation and encouraging them to interact with programmes. It gives listeners the ability to answer questions instantly and then, as SpencerHowson pointed out, radio announcers are able to read them out on air within minutes.

SpencerHowson: Twitter allows him and the ABC as a whole to engage with listeners and/or non-listeners simply because it provides them with a platform for doing what they want to do: taking pictures and sharing stuff – so there is actually a lot of off-air interactivity.

Twitter therefore, in my view, despite industry professionals being controlled by the constraints of their employers, works well as a site for professionals who want to interact with their audiences and also, other industry professionals. It works as a key driver for getting people to engage with information but also to keep up a constant cycle and recycle of information and interactivity through such tools as retweets, trending hash tags and the ability to link numerous users into one post.

So maybe the solution is to keep Twitter as a professional platform for networking, engaging and sharing and live by SpencerHowson‘s mantra and ask the questions: would you say this live on radio? Could this come back to bite me in the future? Could it harm my future as a professional journalist?

Here is a blog with some tips on how journalists can effectively tweet.

I still think Facebook is more geared for a relaxed social discourse, even though the business agenda is starting to creep in. So you can keep posting comments about the restaurants you have been to or how much you hate the Kelvin Grove Subway restaurant for not putting enough sauce on your meatball sub – and maybe set your FB profile to private…just in case any potential employers come looking.

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