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How journalists can use Talkwheel to engage readers on Facebook

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Before digital media, journalists simply responded to reader questions or comments. Now, they engage with readers on social media sites like Facebook, which can be a tremendous resource or a curse as deadlines pile up.

Talkwheel is a new tool that promises to keep the conversation flowing with minimal time commitment. IJNet took it for a spin.

Talkwheel is a San Francisco startup that lets readers interact across social media, websites and video-sharing sites like YouTube. Current clients include IBM, Sears and breast-cancer awareness group Think Before You Pink.

Its clean, in-the-round design is meant to mimic a dinner table conversation, making it easier to participate than the typical Facebook design in which comments stack on top of each other.

There's a free version offered to brands, says Patrick Randolph, Talkwheel's VP of Business Development, who demonstrated the app for IJNet. And, yes, that extends to journalists with fan pages.

While the free version doesn't allow you to integrate Talkwheel into your blog or Twitter, busy journalists will find it useful for a couple of reasons.

The circular design allows you to see at a glance where most people are commenting and focus on that, rather than scrolling through chronological nested replies. In addition to the conversation wheel, the app has a left-hand panel with topics, which is handy if you want to see what's going on in a hurry.

Randolph says Talkwheel's design increases "chatter" on Facebook by 40 percent. If that's true, it also boosts the chances that if you don't have time to answer a reader comment right away, another reader might step in--great for journalists who work on topics like sports, as this rugby fan page with Talkwheel shows.

If you take it for a whirl, let us know what you think.

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