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Twitter 201 for Journalists- Twitter Etiquette, or Joining the Cocktail Party

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Now that you’ve posted your first messages to twitter, and made use of best practices from the Twitter 101 Cheat Sheet, take your tweeting to the next level by learning some twitter specific language, adding multimedia to your tweets and beginning to engage with twitter, rather than publish to it.

To take this next step, I’ll share a metaphor that I often used while teaching New York Times journalists about the dynamics of twitter. When you hear twitter, think instead of a cocktail party within your beat or interest area. You populate it mostly with interesting people, some impresarios who just need to be there, a few outsiders and some wild cards. Following more people means more conversations at your party, but also makes it harder to hear everyone.

To torture the metaphor further, posting to twitter is like being at the party too. You are trying to be the best version of yourself. You endeavor to be good natured, clever, and topical, all in 120ish characters.

Twitter Etiquette

How to share links to your own work with out sounding like a self-promoting dirtbag.

Twitter is great for sharing links. Links to articles, links to images, and links to funny pictures. Sometimes we want to share links to our own work but want to be gracious and helpful- here are some ways.

Give a shout out to the people on twitter who were quoted in your article, or who contributed to the reporting. Something like,

“Just posted this piece on the new thai restaurant in Green Point. Big thanks to @thaifoodnut for the great background info.”

Retweet someone who tweets a link to your piece, and thank them. For this, first retweet their tweet, then tweet your own post with something like,

“thanks @journalismlover, hope the piece on artificial sweeteners was useful.”

How to take a conversation out of Twitter to another medium.

Many Journalists use Twitter to find sources. Once you’ve found someone, its great to take the conversation into e-mail land. Here’s how.

@withdrake: people of earth- I’m looking for anyone who has noticed that their iPad has been getting way too warm. Tweet me back.

@ipatty: Hey @withdrake, mine got so hot it left a mark on my plastic outdoor table.

@withdrake: @ipatty, Interesting. Would you shoot me an email at withdrake [at] withdrake [dot] com? would love to hear more.

See what happened there? At the end I put my email in that funny human-only format because there are computers out there that scour twitter for email addresses to do nasty things to them. Another way to accoplish the same task would be to use the Direct Message.

A Direct Message is like a private “mini-email” between two people on twitter. The trick there is that you have to follow the person you wish to message, and they have to follow you as well. Once that reciprocal relationship is established, the “DM” feature can be used. That exchange would look something like,

@withdrake: Greetings tweeps, I’m looking for anyone who has noticed that their iPad has been getting way too warm. Tweet me back.

@ipatty: Hey @withdrake, mine got so hot it left a mark on my plastic outdoor table.

@withdrake: @ipatty, Interesting. I just followed you, would you mind following me back so we can DM about it?

DMs are used for short info exchanges, and often are frustrating if you are trying to get rea info. They can be great for trading phone numbers when you’d prefer them not to be public, but dont want to get email involved. Also they enable periodic private communication between you and the other party- occasionally useful.

Final Thought.

Twitter is immediate and asynchronous. Make your tweets stand alone when you can. In journalism speak, the best tweets are often a lede+nutgraph+action(link) all in 120 characters, so that others may retweet. It’s an exercise in brevity and word economy, and occasionally, its fun.

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