Taming the Twitterverse

One of the hottest topics at this year’s Online News Association Conference was the way in which journalists can better utilize Twitter.

Twitter has become this lightning fast, personalized news source that offers reader interactivity unlike anything else. Social media in general now plays a huge role in the newsroom, but it’s not as easy as you think to integrate your newsroom with social media. It takes patience, tenacity in your online presence, and a friendly, personalized experience for the reader.

“40% of Twitter users are just listening, coming to Twitter as wire service,” Erica Anderson says in the “Twitter for Newsrooms: Toolkit 101” ONA Conference session. Anderson is part of Twitter’s media partnership team in San Francisco.

Some people just listen, but there’s a trend that really has me interested.

While on a trip to the Boston Globe during the conference, I heard an interesting story from the social media desk. Earlier this year during the August 23rd east coast earthquake, the staff saw tweets about the earthquake before they even felt it.

Say a story is breaking right in front of you on Twitter, but the facts are coming from @joe-shmo in Virginia. Can you take that source for their word? Trust your journalistic instincts, and check the facts. If you retweet something and it turns out to be false or inaccurate, your followers will stop trusting you. Think of Twitter as a legitimate news source. If you’re unsure of the accuracy, tweet at the person and ask them to call you. Confirm the facts with your source and ask follow up questions. Treat it like you would any other situation in the field.

More recently, in fact just last night, I was sitting at home watching the Cardinals and Phillies duke it out on TV. Around 8p.m. I went onto to Twitter to comment about a play I saw and all of sudden, my Twitter feed started to light up with Steve Jobs comments.

In the following minutes, it was incredible what happened. I had the news before CNN.com posted it, before NYTimes.com posted it, and before the 24hour news networks reported it. I saw it unfold before my eyes. That’s the kind of incredible power that Twitter has. Take a look at the graph of the trending term “Steve Jobs.”

Take a look at the term “earthquake” in this next chart.

Sure enough, on August 23rd at 2p.m., Twitter explodes. According to the United States Geological Survey, the earthquake hit at 1:51pm, ET. If you click on each chart, you can view tweets from those moments.

Suddenly we have all of these documented first hand accounts, all time stamped, occasionally with location, and even photo evidence. It’s citizen journalism at its finest. And best of all – it’s free.


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