Do You Know Where Your Online Readers Are? Developing a Proper Social Media Strategy with Twitter

By Tornoe, Rob | Editor & Publisher, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Do You Know Where Your Online Readers Are? Developing a Proper Social Media Strategy with Twitter


Tornoe, Rob, Editor & Publisher


At this very moment, there is at least one well-meaning engagement editor harassing a beat reporter for not using Twitter properly.

Twitter, mentioned no less than 18 times in the New York Times ' now-famous innovation report, just turned 10 years old in March. In that time, the social media platform has become as mandatory a tool for journalists as their laptop or smartphone. In every newsroom across the country, reporters leverage Twitter (and its 330 million or so active users worldwide) in an attempt to drive traffic to their reporting.

There are a number of different reasons for reporters to use Twitter. From sourcing stories to being alerted to breaking developments, Twitter's versatility makes it an important tool in today's fast changing world of journalism.

But with so many social media networks to choose from, does Twitter have an oversized influence on journalists, who feel it's become a job requirement to live-tweet and share every detail of the stories they're working on?

A new report from Parse.ly, a social media analytics company that works with large publishers such as Upworthy, Slate and Business Insider, suggests that in terms of traffic, the average publisher isn't getting much out of Twitter.

Looking at data from 200 publishers during a two-week period in January, Parse.ly found that organizations typically sent just eight tweets per story, which received just three clicks per tweet and less than one retweet for each original tweet.

In fact, traffic from Twitter among Parse.ly clients represented just 1.5 percent of all traffic referrals, coming in well behind Facebook and Google, which each drove about 40 percent of traffic to Parse.ly's partners. Even Yahoo! drove more traffic on average to publishers than Twitter, which barely topped Bing! and Pinterest.

Before you march in to your managing editor's office with a pitch fork and torch demanding to be freed from Twitter's shackles, there were some savvy publishers that managed to do a better job than most at squeezing traffic out of the social media network.

The top five percent of publishers in Parse.ly's study received about 11 percent of their overall traffic from Twitter. Count Nieman Lab among the outliers. It receives about 15 percent of its traffic from Twitter, thanks in no small part to its audience being made up largely of digital savvy journalists.

"There is no "secret sauce" for digital publishers looking to improve their success on Twitter," the company said, noting that the organizations that fared the best were producing "interesting and shareable" content that appeals to a large group of people.

It's vague terms like "interesting" and "shareable" that drive journalists crazy. The realty is what is interesting to one group of readers might not even make a blip on the radar of another. Nieman Lab knows its audience well, but if you work in a major metropolitan newsroom, chances are the prevailing thought is that the entire city is your audience.

It's an important distinction that most news organizations, who continue to use Twitter and other social media networks like a fire hose pushing out all their content, still miss. While the most successful companies did tend to tweet more per story than their counterparts, it isn't the amount of tweets per post that matter--it's that you're sending out content you think will be engaging to your followers.

There are two different sides to Twitter: breaking news and conversational news. …

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