For many journalists, Twitter is their favorite social network. Or the one they used the most often for work, at least. According to Muckrack’s 2021 State of Journalism report, “76% of journalists say Twitter is the most valuable social network to them.”
Like all social media platforms, the app doesn’t stand still. In the past year alone, it has introduced — and then closed — a stories feature (Fleets), and moved into the social audio arena with Twitter Spaces, their own version of Clubhouse. Twitter has also begun piloting a paid version of the service in Canada and Australia.
In the meantime, for all of this innovation, there are also those who prefer that they simply focus their energies on introducing an “edit” function. Given my propensity for typos, I confess I am one of them.
Until that happens, there’s plenty of existing functionality that often goes untapped. Here are five ways journalists can up their Twitter game.
(1) Improving your Twitter threads
Threads are one of the most common ways journalists use Twitter. They’re a great way to break down complex stories, report on breaking news and enable audiences to dive deeper into a topic beyond the confines of a single 280 character tweet.
Although they are used often, many of us could benefit from being a bit more deliberative with our threads.
By keeping your thread visually appealing, you should seek to use the full spectrum of creative tools at your disposal. Use images, charts, GIFs, memes, videos, etc. as well as quotes/paraphrasing, of varying lengths.
Be sure to link to other people tweeting about this topic, by tagging relevant people and places (by @theirusername) to encourage retweets. This includes other journalists and official sources.
Links are your friend. However, they’re often lacking. Tweeting about a report? Provide a link to it. Press conference being carried live? Share where users can watch it. Reporting on a new blockbuster exhibition? Explain how your followers can get tickets.
Lastly, alongside numbering your tweets — handy if people find or follow content out of sequence — consider a recap or another tweet that makes it clear when the thread is finished, rather than just having the sequence stop abruptly or fade out with a whimper.
Digital News Report 2021 out today!— Reuters Institute (@risj_oxford) June 23, 2021
📊 46 markets, 92,000+ respondents
👩🏾🏫 Up to date, cross-national analysis from @nicnewman @dragz @annisch @simgandi Craig T. Robertson @rasmus_kleis & our partners
📱 Full report here https://t.co/lzsPpl6NM6
🧶 Findings in thread #DNR21 pic.twitter.com/K781WjvMXx
(2) Unlocking Twitter’s little-known reverse search function
This one is pretty short and sweet. Want to know who has shared an article you’ve written but not @ you in their tweet? Never fear, there’s a very simple solution for that.
Simply post your URL in the search bar and hit return. It will then show you every time that specific URL (including when it’s been shortened) appears on Twitter.
(3) Curating stories and your greatest hits with Twitter Moments
I’m a big fan of the curated stories provided by Twitter in the right-hand corner on the desktop site. I don’t live on Twitter (although the FOMO, as a result, is very real) so this gives me a good opportunity to quickly catch up with any stories I have missed.
Twitter’s Moments function offers users the chance to do much the same thing, curating content from a variety of sources on the network. Moments have been around for a while, and arguably haven’t really taken off, in part because they can be hard to find and can only be created by desktop. Still, the curation function can be super useful, especially for breaking news.
Individual journalists can do the same, sharing responses to the story they’ve created, pulling in content from others — journalists and non-journalists alike — to highlight the bigger picture, or using the function to archive Twitter threads and other content that might otherwise be lost.
Moments are very intuitive to create. For a quick guide check out the last of these tips from Sarah Marshall, global senior director of audience development, social media and analytics at Vogue. (Need more? This guide from Buffer offers a play-by-play.)
(4) Getting organized through Twitter lists
Another handy curation tool is Twitter lists. Again, although these have been around for a while, their benefits may be underutilized by some journalists.
I have a terrible habit of screenshotting a Twitter user’s bio if I want to make a note of someone I might want to connect with. That image then just sits on my camera roll, inevitably getting lost among all the pictures of my kids, cat or food that I take.
A better way to do this is to add prospects to a Twitter list. This might be around a particular topic, location or organization. You can then add or remove more people from the list over time, and review it whenever you want to see what people on that list have shared on Twitter.
Lists are super handy if you want to duck into a topic on an occasional basis, without necessarily following all of these users all of the time. You can keep lists private, if you want to. You can also see which public lists other users have added you to, and follow lists compiled by others.
The process of compiling lists can be a bit cumbersome — you have to add users one at a time, for one — but it’s easy to do and perfect for when you need to do a bit of administrative work or something suitably low key.
(5) Getting specific with geolocation search
Lastly, Twitter lets you search for tweets by location. That can be especially useful in the event of a breaking news story, where you want to incorporate eyewitness media and reaction, or you’re looking to identify sources associated with a specific locale. Here are some good examples of this from Thought Faucet, while Bellingcat shows just how far you can take this to go deep into a story.
To do this you need to find and include the latitude and longitude of a location, which can be done online.
Once you have that, you can filter by distance from that location – enabling you to cast your net wider for reaction and sources from a specific destination. For example, if I wanted to see tweets from within one kilometer of the U.S. Capitol, in the Twitter search I would put: geocode:38.890550,-77.009017,1km
Image: Twitter GeoLocation search 2021-07-27 at 12.54.02 AM (BST)
This can be a useful way to garner responses to a local story, as well as bigger issues or to identify sources in a given area. For local beat reporters, for example, this might be a good way to quickly get the lay of the land — and a potential way to wow your colleagues.
The value and flexibility of this function, as well as the others included here, mean that these Twitter tools should all be in your journalistic kit bag — if they aren’t already.