Best practices for journalists

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Journalists and news publishers have long sought the best ways to create engagement on Twitter and make the most of every Tweet - and we want to help. We’ve created a set of best practices for journalists and newsrooms that can help you increase follower growth and engagement on Twitter, based on extensive research by our Platform and Analytics teams.

The team analyzed thousands of Tweets from more than 150 news brands and individual reporters around the world, determining four specific areas of focus: tweet your beat, use hashtags for context, @ cite your sources, and share what you’re reading.

1. Tweet your beat 
One of the best ways to increase Twitter engagement is to Tweet regularly about the subjects you cover. Our research shows that for people who post a concentrated number of Tweets in a short time span, follower growth is 50% more than average (1.5x). Live-tweeting or posting updates about a news event related to your beat is one way to grow followers and increase interaction. 

During a tornado last year, @TuscaloosaNews tweeted minute-by-minute updates, including pointers to emergency resources. For this effort, the newsroom was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News.

When crime reporter Sara Ganim (@SGanim) from the central Pennsylvania Patriot-News tweeted the Jerry Sandusky trial, she saw a 2,000 follower spike. Twitter users who continue to live-tweet news relevant to their beat often see a steady stream of new followers.

2. Use hashtags for context 
Tweets with hashtags (the # symbol, immediately followed by the subject or keyword related to the Tweet) can increase engagement almost 100% (2x) for individuals and 50% (1.5x) for brands. Journalists and news publishers use hashtags to organize conversations, gather feedback, and to identify and engage with Twitter users discussing a particular topic.

Fox News (@FoxNews) uses hashtags to identify the subject of its Tweets and to participate in the Twitter conversation about that person, place, thing or event.

@CBSChicago uses hashtags to group Tweets into a conversation that makes it easy to follow or engage with. For example, the #DrewPeterson hashtag was included in the Tweet below to identify news related to the local trial. When you include hashtags in your Tweets, your Tweets become more visible, and over time you gather more Twitter followers.

3. @Cite your sources 
When tweeting about or to a Twitter user (individual or brand), include their Twitter handle (the @ sign, followed by the username). Brands that tweet 20% fewer URLs and 100% more @mentions grow followers 17% more than average. What that tells us is to mix up your Tweets so your feed isn’t just links to your stories. Post tweets that include URLs, but also tweets with @mentions, and tweets with no links at all.

Inside Breaking News (@breaking) frequently includes the Twitter handle of the source of the links, photos or videos in its Tweets. Including the Twitter handle of your sources can increase follower growth and engagement.

4. Share what you’re reading 
News accounts receive 100% more (2x) active engagement on a high-performing Tweet when a URL is included. To increase the engagement on your account and Tweets, mix it up a bit: when individuals share URLs to non-company sources, they experience a bump in follows. Among those who share links to content not generated in their newsrooms are The New York Times’ Brian Stelter (@brianstelter), MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (@maddow), and The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal (@alexismadrigal).

Use the Retweet button as a tool to curate content for your followers. Individuals with above expected follower growth send 200% more retweets (3X) compared to individuals with below expected follower growth. For example, The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty (@ktumulty) has a high rate of Twitter engagement because she shares interesting content she has come across. 

Best practices for journalists

In summary, here are ways journalists and news publishers can increase follower growth and Twitter engagement, based on our research: 

  • Tweet content related to your beat; live-tweet  
  • Use hashtags for context and @cite your sources 
  • Share what you’re reading with your Twitter followers
  • Use the Retweet button to curate 

You’ll find additional resources at and by following @TwitterForNews. If you’re in town for the ONA conference, we hope to get a chance to meet!

Posted Mark Luckie (@marksluckie)
Creative Content Manager for Journalism & News