Twitter Yields Uneven ROI for News Organizations Using Automation, Curation, Interaction Posted by Patrick Thornton on Aug. 25, 2009
Twitter & News <ul><li>Journalists and news organizations are all atwitter these days, but they are seeing different returns on investment from their uses of Twitter. </li></ul><ul><li>Conventional wisdom says that to be good at using social media sites like Twitter, one must be social. For high-energy New York Times tech columnist David Pogue David Pogue this strategy has worked. </li></ul><ul><li>He has about 850,000 followers on Twitter, in no small part because he is entertaining and personal, while also interacting with fans. </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>But most journalists aren't rock stars like Pogue, and most news organizations don't have someone like him. What works for The New York Times may not work for other journalists and news organizations. </li></ul><ul><li>For every Pogue with hundreds of thousands of followers, there are plenty of journalists with few followers. The success of Twitter for individual journalists, however, isn't just about followers and sending traffic back to news organizations' Web sites. Journalists can find success on Twitter by crowdsourcing story ideas and stories, connecting with sources, doing research and more. </li></ul><ul><li>Being interactive on social media requires a lot of time and resources, though, which will directly impact return on investment. </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>Automation and headlines Many people have decried news organizations' use of automated RSS feeds into Twitter. These Twitter accounts grab headlines from an RSS feed and usually offer no human input. They are anything but social and are a poor-man's version of an RSS feed. </li></ul><ul><li>So why offer them? Steve Buttry, C3 innovation coach of Gazette Communications in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said in a phone interview that while he personally prefers accounts that feature interactivity, he acknowledges that some users enjoy having headlines pop up in their Twitter feeds. KCRG, a TV station owned by Gazette Communications, uses Twitterfeed Twitterfeed to automate its Twitter account. Buttry said it's hard to argue with the 2,300+ followers of the KCRG account KCRG account . </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>"I frankly don't use it much because I like the interaction," Buttry said of the KCRG Twitter account, "but people have different tastes." </li></ul><ul><li>The New York Times ' main Twitter account, @NyTimes @NyTimes , features mostly headlines and no interaction. It's not a model for being social, but it is the 18th most popular account on Twitter with more than 1.6 million followers. </li></ul><ul><li>"There is a market for interactive and non-interactive accounts," Times Social Media Editor Jennifer Preston said. "Like most media organizations, we recognize that Twitter is about conversations, not broadcasting. That said, some people do like their headlines." </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>The @NyTimes account has been making strides, however, into a more Twitter-friendly stream. The account went from an automated account to a curated account earlier this summer and will have more interactive changes coming later this year. </li></ul><ul><li>"These are baby steps, though," Preston said. "And we will not make any major changes without listening closely to what our users have to say.“ </li></ul><ul><li>Gazette, which has print, online and TV news outlets, has a multi-faceted strategy. Some accounts are RSS feeds, while others feature a very interactive, human touch. Other accounts are a mix of headlines and interaction. </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>There are people who just use Twitter as an RSS reader. Buttry said his wife has two accounts, one for interacting and one she uses as a news feed. Some people find a bunch of Twitter feeds that they want to follow and they read through the news and links from them. Others, like Buttry, have combined their Twitter and RSS reading habits into one. Buttry said he no longer uses Google Reader, and instead views headlines and news while he is using Twitter. </li></ul><ul><li>There are problems, however, with taking an RSS feed and feeding it into Twitter. Not everything fit for RSS reader consumption makes sense on Twitter. Headlines that are too long are truncated on Twitter, and other headlines that rely on accompanying summaries make little sense by themselves. Both leave users with a poor experience and may offer little value for a news organization. </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>The Washington Post runs ads in its RSS feeds, and due to a mix-up, ads from its Post Politics RSS feed have been showing up on its Post Politics Twitter account. The ads, however, are visual and don't work on a text-based medium like Twitter. Instead of displaying a rich banner ad, the ads simply say "Featured Advertiser" with a link to the advertiser's Web site. </li></ul><ul><li>The Post , which doesn't currently have plans to advertise on Twitter, says the mistake will be fixed promptly. The Post usually uses RSS feeds without ads when it links up with Twitter. News organizations have to grab the right feed or make sure they have a feed without ads if they want to provide users with a consistent quality experience. The problem isn't the ads, but rather that since some RSS ads won't display properly on Twitter, it gives users a confusing and uneven experience. </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>Washington Post Interactivity Editor Hal Straus said he prefers Post Twitter accounts not be completely feed driven or just composed of headlines. He said there is nothing wrong with putting an automated feed into Twitter, but that it would be better to mix that with interaction. </li></ul><ul><li>"We don't think that's the way to go," he said about just using RSS feeds in Twitter. "We don't think that's what the audience ultimately wants.“ </li></ul><ul><li>Straus pointed to Chris Cillizza's The Fix as a good way to use Twitter; it includes headlines, but also includes other content that suits Twitter particularly well. The Fix, which is also a popular political blog for washingtonpost.com, features on Twitter a mix of Post headlines, links to other interesting content from around the Web, little tidbits of information and interactivity with users. Cillizza also shows his personal side on his Twitter account and doesn't take himself too seriously. </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>Curation Colonel Tribune , the Chicago Tribune character run by staffers, was one of the first to show news organizations the value of curation. The Colonel's Twitter account links to interesting Tribune content, content from around the Web and spurs discussions. The Colonel doesn't just grab headlines, but rather finds interesting parts of stories and points them out to users. The Tribune has found a lot of success with the Colonel (more than 400,000 Twitter followers). The Colonel curates interesting content focused on the Chicago area, while also mixing in a healthy amount of interaction with users . The Colonel has paid off for the Tribune , despite the work it requires, because the Colonel has a lot of followers and sends a lot of traffic to chicagotribune.com. </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>The Tribune 's main Twitter account, @ ChicagoTribune , is automated with Twitterfeed and has less than 18,000 followers. The Colonel has more than 22 times that many followers. The curation strategy has paid off with @ColonelTribune, but a similar curation strategy may not pay off for another news organization. And it's worth pointing out that some people prefer the straight headline approach of the Tribune 's main feed over what @ColonelTribune has to offer. </li></ul><ul><li>The Post 's main Twitter account used to be an automated RSS feed. Straus said the Post switched over to a curated approach about two months ago and has found better success with this approach. The Post has gained followers with its curated mix of hard news and feature stories. </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>One of the main advantages of curation over automation is that headlines designed for a news Web site (or even originally print) may not make sense on Twitter, may be cut off mid-headline or may be too dull to stand out in a sea of tweets. Curation allows journalists and news organizations the ability to re-write headlines to make them more Twitter friendly. </li></ul><ul><li>"I prefer thinking [about] what works best for Twitter and not just a headline," Buttry said. </li></ul><ul><li>He said he often highlights interesting quotes or statistics in a story instead of just the headline. Buttry believes this approach helps tweets stand out more. </li></ul>
Twitter & News <ul><li>The big downside of curation is the time it takes. Curation often leads to a better product than automation, but it requires considerably more time, and that has a significant impact on return on investment. If a curated approach like @ColonelTribune was not yielding better results than an automated approach, an automated approach might make more sense for certain news organizations. </li></ul><ul><li>Buttry said that news organizations and journalists ultimately have to be flexible and serve users needs. </li></ul><ul><li>"We need to be flexible for the multiple ways that people are consuming media," he said. "If we think today that we have it figured out, we're going to have to be changing tomorrow because the world is changing tomorrow." </li></ul>
Hearst Shuts Down a Seattle Paper Post-Intelligencer photo editor John Dickson, right, hugs Assistant Managing Editor Chris Beringer after the paper's closing was announced. Hearst Corp. is abandoning the print edition of its Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper and rolling the dice on a bold experiment: overhauling a big-city daily to a winnowed, online-only operation. The 146-year-old P-I is the first major newspaper to flee print for the Web, and publishers are watching the revamp closely as they explore tactics to steady their beleaguered businesses. A handful of smaller papers, including the Christian Science Monitor and the Kentucky Post, are making similar moves, but none approaches the size or scope of the 118,000-circulation P-I. For Hearst, the online-only P-I provides a laboratory to test new ideas for its 16-paper chain, which includes the Houston Chronicle and the San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst will be quick to pull the plug if the online P-I falters, according to people familiar with the company's thinking.
<ul><li>"We look at this as a great experiment to launch a fully digital local-media company in Seattle, taking advantage of the great brand and the great talent that we have," Steven Swartz, president of Hearst newspapers, said in an interview. </li></ul><ul><li>Mr. Swartz said Hearst couldn't continue to absorb the P-I's losses, which the company said reached $14 million last year. </li></ul><ul><li>Dan DeLong/Seattle Post-Intelligencer Post-Intelligencer photo editor John Dickson, right, hugs Assistant Managing Editor Chris Beringer after the paper's closing was announced. </li></ul><ul><li>It isn't clear that an online-only P-I will be financially viable. Hearst is giving up more than 90% of the revenue that a newspaper typically generates from sales of print advertising and circulation, and that won't easily be replaced by online dollars. </li></ul>Hearst Shuts Down a Seattle Paper Hearst's move is part of an early wave of a painful retrenching for the newspaper industry as its longstanding economic underpinnings are crumbling. Advertising revenue is declining so sharply that even once hugely profitable papers are falling into the red.
<ul><li>The two dailies in Detroit essentially are halting printing most days of the week, save for an abbreviated paper they will sell only on newsstands. One of Denver's papers, the Rocky Mountain News, closed its doors last month after posting repeated losses. Hearst's unprofitable San Francisco Chronicle may follow suit unless it can dramatically cut back its work force. </li></ul><ul><li>"Belatedly, yes, the industry is really moving on some new fronts to develop a new business model," Mr. Swartz said. </li></ul><ul><li>The P-I's new model hinges on slashing its work force, scaling back its news coverage and selling different kinds of online advertising. The P-I is retaining just 20 of its journalists to work on the online operation, leaving nearly 90% of its newsroom employees, or 145 people, out of a job. The P-I, which prints its last edition Tuesday, also is hiring more than 20 people to sell advertising for its Web operation. </li></ul>Hearst Shuts Down a Seattle Paper
<ul><li>The P-I must quickly ramp up what Hearst says will be a sophisticated digital-marketing operation that sells banner ads for its own site and brokers ads elsewhere, such as on Yahoo Inc. pages; classified-ad site Kaango.com (which is part owned by Hearst); and next to listings on Google, MSN and other prominent search engines. </li></ul><ul><li>"The deck is stacked against them because of the core of the [newspaper-business] mind-set, the staff and the advertisers have been about selling a very different product," said Dave Morgan, a technology entrepreneur and former newspaper executive, who is a director of newspaper publisher A.H. Belo Corp. </li></ul><ul><li>Some ad buyers in the Seattle area said they want the choice of buying newspaper ads. They still have the option of the P-I's larger rival, the Seattle Times, although it also faces an uncertain future. </li></ul><ul><li>"You can run a full-page ad and feel like you got critical mass," said Melissa Durfee Davis, media director for DNA Seattle, a marketing firm that buys ads for area businesses. </li></ul>Hearst Shuts Down a Seattle Paper
<ul><li>A full-page ad in the P-I sell for about $50,000, though regular advertisers receive discounts, for a rate of about $200 to reach a thousand readers. Advertisers and digital-media analysts said a local news site like the P-I's would be able to charge roughly $10 per thousand people. </li></ul><ul><li>But the P-I experiment is fairly low-risk for the profitable, family-controlled Hearst, which also owns consumer magazines and has a 20% stake in the ESPN cable channel. Mr. Swartz said Hearst expects the online operation to turn a profit, though not immediately. </li></ul><ul><li>The P-I will revamp the familiar model of a big-city daily as a catch-all of local and national news and features. Instead, it will cover local events and publish blogs and columns from staff, readers and prominent local citizens. It also plans to link liberally to other news sources in the Seattle area. </li></ul><ul><li>An online-news operation is "fundamentally a very different sort of content business than a newspaper," said Adam Symson, who oversees KyPost.com, the surviving Web site of the Kentucky Post newspaper, which stopped printing at the end of 2007. </li></ul><ul><li>P-I staffers learned of their fate in a morning meeting with publisher and editor Roger Oglesby. Mr. Oglesby, who will leave the paper but stay with Hearst, told employees that "the bloodline will live on" in the online-only P-I. </li></ul>Hearst Shuts Down a Seattle Paper
Will your newspaper survive Internet age? <ul><li>There were 1,878 daily newspapers in the USA . Now, there are 1,457 . </li></ul><ul><li>Not only their numbers but their readership has been on a steady slide . Circulation of all dailies during the past 20 years : </li></ul><ul><li>• 1982—62.5 million </li></ul><ul><li>• 1992—60.1 million </li></ul><ul><li>• 2002—55.1 million </li></ul>
<ul><li>Newspapers hold on to most older readers until they die . But they haven't hooked the younger TV and Internet generations . </li></ul><ul><li>Actually, most newspapers have improved in overall content and appearance during the past two decades . They just haven't figured out how to pry preteens or teens away from their screens . </li></ul>Will your newspaper survive Internet age?
<ul><li>As a newspaper nut for more than 60 years, I read dozens of them from across the country frequently and six delivered at home every morning . I judge them on the job they are doing for the particular audience they try to serve . </li></ul><ul><li>Based on those criteria, here are my top five dailies ( USA TODAY was ineligible for the list because I had a little to do with starting it ): </li></ul><ul><li>1 . The New York Times </li></ul><ul><li>2. The Miami Herald </li></ul><ul><li>3 . The Washington Post </li></ul><ul><li>4. Arkansas Democrat - Gazette </li></ul><ul><li>5 . Los Angeles Times </li></ul>Will your newspaper survive Internet age?
<ul><li>The Miami Herald earns its spot with a recent new look that makes everything easier to find, to read and to understand . The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is not flashy but full of important stories and interesting little tidbits from cities to crossroads all across that state . </li></ul><ul><li>If those five, or any of the other existing 1,452 dailies, want to be on anybody's list 50 years from now, they'll have to take aim at preteens and teens . Now . </li></ul>Will your newspaper survive Internet age?