The Rights and Wrongs of Social Media for Newspapers

Sports Illustrated reporter Richard Deitsch is everything that’s right with the media on Twitter, and everything that’s wrong with the media on Twitter.

In July, CNN dubbed him as “The sportswriter who made Twitter cry” after a photograph inspired him to ask if people had pictures of the best moments in their life. The response was overwhelming and he spent hours and days retweeting heartwarming photos – babies being born, sports memories, family moments, etc. – that showed the overwhelming power of social media.

social media newspaper
This week, Deitsch published his weekly Media Circus column, one of the must-reads for those in the sports media world. In a span of 15 hours, he tweeted out the link 10 times.

That is why I am not a follower of his anymore.

The most remarkable thing about Deitsch is that he knows he excessively tweets out his column links, as other sportswriters do. He has at times prefaced it with, “I know you don’t like it, but rent needs to be paid, so here’s my link 10 times.”

Deitsch has 95,000 followers. Sports Illustrated (@SINow) has 650,000 followers. One tweet from the SI account is far more important that Deitsch needlessly and constantly hammering his base every Sunday and Monday.

There is no doubt that causes him to lose followers. I know, because I’m one he’s lost.

Yet I still see his column every week in my Twitter feed. Due to the wide range of topics he covers – and the nature of sports geeks that I follow – someone will invariably retweet his column. And therein lies the not-so-subtle secret about social media.

All that matters is the content.

At the Newspaper Association of America (follow us: @NAAupdates), a recently released report on social media highlighted the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to newspapers and social media.

The good is best demonstrated by Deitsch’s “Best Moment” tweet as he used social media to push content out, not just pull them in. Of course, his endless link-tweeting violates the second part. But he is far from the only offender.

One of the aspects of social media that frustrated me about newspapers is the seeming resistance to bring life to their “official” accounts. So many newspapers use Twitter like an RSS feed – mindlessly tweeting out articles with headlines and links.

To be fair, there is value in this and the newspaper will invariably attract followers by doing so.

What it fails to do, however, is expand the brand beyond the readers who are likely predisposed to visiting the site anyway. All the links do is getting them to the site quicker – though not necessarily in greater numbers.

It should be the case at every newspaper that there is a human who tweets. Preferably, more than one human. Because just posting links is not effective anymore. For one, the headlines on the article may not be adept for social media – it may need to be tweaked, made shorter or made more relevant. Is there anything worse than a long headline cut off on a Tweet due to character length?

Secondly, by simply posting links and articles, you are removing the integral part to Twitter’s success – you know, the social part. There has to be that element, even from the official account, of interaction with readers. There is so much discussion around reader engagement in traditional methods that many are missing the forest for the trees – a simple @ response or favorite can go a long way to making a reader feel like the newspaper is invested in them.

Then there is notion of scheduled tweets – the increasing amount of research devoted to social media that determines when is the best time to send out social media. “Oh, let’s wait until 11.” “No, anything after 4pm is worthless.”

To a degree, this is true – stats exist for a reason. But going back to the “content is king” mantra, what you tweet out is far more important than when you tweet it out.

When Deitsch sent out his initial tweet that spawned all of those media articles came out just before midnight on a July weeknight. If you were to look at the research, I’m not sure you could have picked a worst time to make an impact through social media.

And that, of course, is the kicker about social media – there are no right’s or wrong’s. It’s organic. It’s different. It’s almost impossible to formulate and fool.

While I think that tweeting out a link to your article 10 times in a day is too much, there are those that argue you cannot tweet too much. While I may believe that there is no right time to tweet, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

In short, there is only one indisputable fact about how newspapers should use social media – they need to invest time and resources to it.

While I worked at the Hartford Business Journal, I had an editor tell me to not start a blog for my weekly column because “no one reads blogs” and to not worry about a Facebook page for it because “that won’t drive website traffic.” I’m not here to mock that guy but…yeah, he was stupid.

Maybe that’s the advice all newspapers should heed: Don’t be stupid.

The best way to use social media is different for every newspaper out there, depending on its readership, its community, its focus areas, its scope and its personality. Every newspaper needs to figure out what’s best for them – and they’ll only figure that out from trying.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to tweet this out 24 times and see if I rack up some page views. 

Follow me on Twitter

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