The tweeting whiteboard: The Guardian’s witty account

Monday, 24 February 2014

Plenty of newsrooms have whiteboards for brainstorming, note-taking and other necessaries of newsgathering. But it’s safe to say those whiteboards don’t have their own Twitter accounts.

Enter the Guardian Whiteboard (@gdnwhiteboard).

The goal is not to provide news, says Kayla Epstein (@KaylaEpstein), a social media producer for @GuardianUS and the “Keeper of the Whiteboard”. Rather, the Whiteboard account aims to engage with people who are already aware of what’s going on, serving as a conversation starter to comment on news with readers.

Running the account is a team effort, Epstein says, with contributions from finance and economics editor Heidi Moore (@moorehn), social news editor Katie Rogers (@katierogers) and open editor Amanda Michel (@amichel). It was launched last summer without great expectations, Michel says, and it’s “taken on a life of its own. It’s become its own being.”

It asks funny questions about the most volatile politician or predicts the next Rob Ford revelation and engages regularly with other accounts. As such, @gdnwhiteboard has its own personality. While the central @GuardianUS account is understandably more measured about messages and interactions, the Whiteboard account will talk and tweet with just about anybody.

“There are lots of people who tweet at the Guardian account, but the Whiteboard can really interact with them, can tease them, get more creative answers,” Epstein says.

A Twitter account for an inanimate object is not necessarily a novel idea. @NatHistoryWhale, the account for the whale at New York City’s Natural History Museum, and @MarsCuriosity, the account for the NASA mission, are two examples of “thing” accounts that are active and popular. Each one has quirks and eccentricities that distinguish them.

The Whiteboard account (@gdnwhiteboard) brings @GuardianUS closer to its readers.

The Guardian Whiteboard is an opportunity for staff of the Guardian to interact with readers, see how the audience is responding to stories. “When conversations are bubbling up around a news event,” Epstein says, “plugging the Whiteboard into the conversation is a great way to reach the audience.”

In that sense, the account serves as a “water cooler,” Michel says. It lets the public in on the newsroom’s chatter. The Twitter account has readers answering the same questions as people in the newsroom.

In addition, the Guardian has learned valuable information about how people engage on Twitter. The staff is finding a correlation between the wording of a question or the type of Tweet and whether people respond with a Retweet, favorite or reply. For instance, this serious post dealing with #RealSochiProblems received dozens of Retweets and favorites, but few replies.

The funnier posts are those people reply to, Epstein says. This Valentine’s Day-inspired Tweet fueled great engagement, inspiring several other picture and poem responses, which were incorporated into a story on the Guardian site.

Given the visual nature of the medium — Epstein likes Twitter photo cards — she anticipates a whiteboard “duel” at some point. There is already a potential match to @gdnwhiteboard: the whiteboard cleaner.

Do you know of other innovative uses of Twitter? Write to [email protected].