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Old Media’s New Voice

Old Media’s New Voice

I recently presented a “core conversation” at South by Southwest Interactive with Daniel Honigman, who is the guy behind the Chicago Tribune’s very popular @ColonelTribune. The title of our conversation was “Old Media Finds New Voice Through Twitter.” It truly was a good back-and-forth dialogue with the 100 or so people who jammed into the small room at the Austin Convention Center.

There’s no question that the Austin American-Statesman has found a new voice thanks to Twitter – check out our presence at The Chicago Tribune has found the same through the Colonel, who is a social media persona run by Honigman. No longer are these old media papers just shoveling out the news and hoping you’ll enjoy it. Now, there are conversations happening every day between our readers and our staff members. Good, constructive conversations, too.

Twitter allows that, thanks to the tool’s simplicity and personal nature.

Most news organizations are on Twitter now, but I recommend going in deeper (and having a person behind your main news account). The benefits of diving head-first into Twitter are great:

* Twitter users are new unique users, the holy grail for old media organizations right now. They’re people we couldn’t or wouldn’t reach otherwise.

* People are already talking about the news on Twitter. In fact, it’s one of the main things people do on Twitter. If you’re a journalist on Twitter, you can be relevant in their lives.

* It’s a great marketing tool. When people ask me what the return on investment is for Twitter, I tell them that it’s not just about driving page views to our site (which it does), it’s also a marketing campaign.

People genuinely like and respect your organization when they get to know the real people behind the bylines. I once asked my followers how I’m doing as the guy behind the main Statesman account (@statesman). I received dozens of positive comments right away – and no major complaints.

If you work in the mainstream media, you know how rare positive feedback is.

* It does bring in page views. If it were a staff blog, the daily page views I get from Twitter would be our newspaper’s most popular blog. We consistently see good click-through rates. On big news event days, the page views go up quickly. Twitter’s viral nature (through retweets) means that one message sent out to a few thousand followers can quickly reach tens of thousands. During Hurricane Ike, our reporters were tweeting from one account (@TrackingIke). During that weekend, we pulled in 300,000-plus page views just from Twitter.

* Real-time aggregation. The trend in news is to aggregate, and for good reason. People are going to go where they know they can get the most complete news. With Twitter, you can aggregate in real time. If the competition beats you on a story, post their link on Twitter. You can be a one-stop Twitter shop for news.

* It gets your organization into the mobile game. If your company is forward-thinking at all, you’ve already had plenty of meetings and maybe even some product rollouts that have to do with mobile phones and applications. It’s a tough market to get into because there are so many different ways that people access news stories via mobile. If you’re on Twitter, though, you have a ready-made mobile application that delivers your news on all mobile platforms — and a willing community of people to follow that news. That’s hard to beat right now.

Here are three things that an old media organization could do almost right away:

1. Turn off Twitterfeed. There are people who think the main organization account should be an RSS feed of headlines. You ever try to really follow an account that is just a string of RSS headlines? They come in randomly and can overload your stream. I suggest you try doing what the Statesman, Colonel Tribune, and many other organizations are doing and put a real person behind that account. Twitter is too personal, in my opinion, for RSS feeds. That back-and-forth conversation can be very rewarding.

2. Build a Twitter directory. Include your staff members who are on Twitter and good local folks to follow. Make sure you give your directory a decent spot on your home page so folks know you’re on Twitter.

3. Organize a brown-bag lunch for your staff. Have your social media champion explain why more should be done and how to do it. Some staff members are always going to snicker at Twitter. Just remember, they snickered at the Internet in general, too.

If your organization isn’t using Twitter to its fullest capability, it’s not too late to find that new voice.

Robert Quigley, the Internet editor at the Austin American-Statesman, writes a media blog with Daniel Honigman at

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