Why S.C. media isn't ready for Twitter

Chip Oglesby bio photo By Chip Oglesby

Media outlets have done so poorly at Twitter because they haven’t taken the time to learn and adopt to these new tools and because they try to apply their old set of standards and control to this new tool.

The history of twitter is well known, the service started as a way of quickly letting people know what you were doing through SMS like messages.

In the recent article, “Mob Rule! How Users Took Over Twitter,” the story reveals how twitter users dictate what changes twitter needs to make.

But there was a problem: Twitter itself didn’t invent retweeting; it was created by Twitter users. In a blog post explaining the changes to retweets, the company’s second-in-command, Biz Stone, called them “a great example of Twitter teaching us what it wants to be.”

These changes happened because of demand. The media will not be part of this transition.

Look at all of the rules and restrictions placed on reporters and editors by organizations such as the Washington Post, New York Times and ESPN. Most of their rules are so restrictive that it’s hard to have an online presence.

When managers look at social media, they’re looking at it from an old-guard point of view. They want to apply their rules. Control the information and control the message. There have been two exceptions to this rule, The Colonel Tribune and the Austin American-Statesman. These two news organizations social media strategies work because of clearly defined goals. It’s difficult for people in traditional media to understand the significance for two reasons: 1) They see media as a one-way street. 2) They are so disgusted by comments on their own Web sites they would rather not participate because they see it as noise.

Mass Amateurization

Columbia twitter user Ryan Bowen recently asked Mandi Engram on twitter “any chance of us cola peeps starting news/traffic/etc hashtags?” Ryan has a great idea for using #cae hashtags on his site. This is the type of ground-up movement we need to see more of.

In the book, “Here Comes Everybody,” Clay Shirky points out that “The future presented by the internet is the mass amateurization of publishing and a switch from Why publish this? to Why not? The problem is, citizens can’t wait on newspapers to publish that information for them.”

Starting a revolution on twitter isn’t hard, it just takes the right group of people. Asking a media outlet to start a twitter account for traffic isn’t going to get you anywhere because they’ll never decide on any sort of standardization or rules for the account. When do we tweet? How often do we tweet? What do we tweet? Since there is no definitive answer, the solution is simple, the mass amateurization of media.

Dan Conover and the folks at the Digitel held a #CHS hashtag summit earlier this year with the idea of standardizing hashtags for the Charleston area. They include #chsnews, #chsweather, #chs and #chstraffic. This was a great idea. A way for people in Charleston to filter their news to receive what matters to them. It worked because dedicated group of people got all media outlets to come together and agree on what to do and how to do it and most importantly it started from the ground up.

Twitter list gone mad

In a recent conversation with Mathilde Piard, we both questioned why the LA-TIMES, NYT and other newspapers created lists for the Fort Hood shootings and Orlando shootings when other news organizations had already created those lists.Those tasks were duplicated and unnecessary. The idea that they have to be the authority on the internet is a classic holdover in print to online mentality. Why duplicate the work of others? Why not just point to the original source? I would trust you much more if you did that instead of asking me to follow your news list. I’m not suggesting newspapers ask users to follow a list of a reader they don’t have a working relationship with (for obvious reasons). But if Etan Horowitz creates a list for the Orlando shootings, just ask people to follow his list.

Twitter accounts done wrong

Prior to media outlets actually listening to their followers, most ran RSS feeds for headlines. In the case of @thestate, short headlines mean more retweets. But tweets with context usually provide the user with more information than “two die in crash.”

One of the assumptions with @thestate is that we provide headlines from accross South Carolina. We don’t do that. We provide news from Columbia and the surrounding area, because that’s the news we produce.

Recently we started tweeting about traffic jams from the Columbia area. For our Greenville and Charleston followers, this amounted to nothing more than twitter spam because it means nothing to them.

The Greenville News includes an API on their account that automatically tweets about car accidents. What an awful idea. It alienates followers who send @ replies to Greenville asking them to stop the service. Because no one is manning the account, the rub continues and the users will stop paying attention.

Twitter accounts done right

In the wake of the Fort Hood shootings, The Austin-American Statesman created an account for updates specific to the shootings. What a brilliant idea. Instead of spamming users with updates, they used @FTHOODSHOOTINGS and asked people to follow that account. After seeing this in my tweetstream, I retweeted the request from @thestate’s account asking users to follow them. There was no need for us to tweet details of the shootings since it was outside of our coverage area.

That’s what’s so great about twitter: it’s fight or flight. It takes nothing to setup a temporary account, (other than an email address to get started) and once your event is over, you can phase out the account.

Where this is all heading: FILTERING

The theme here is the ability for users to filter the information most important to them. Does there need to be traffic accounts for Columbia, Irmo and Gilbert? No, because hashtags work just fine. Instead of media outlets always talking about twitter or going to twitter, they could spend time teaching users how to use twitter. Of course, that would mean employing someone who actually knows how to have use it as well. I am willing to bet at least one person in every organization knows how to use twitter, and more than likely that person is not a manager and has been with the company for less than five years.

Unfortunately, media outlets have neither the time nor the staff to constantly update an account for traffic incidents in any given area. Asking the public to help partly crowdsource this information would be a good idea.