In My Opinion: Ellen Arnison: Twitter tips for journalists

IF you’re a journalist and not using twitter, then you should be. It’s a great resource.

At first glance, it might seem like an endless stream of meaningless witterings. However, it’s not all who wore what at the Brits and just how bad that ref’s decision was. Twitter is your friend.

Twitter will help you get ahead on breaking stories

One of the biggest challenge when a big story breaks is finding someone on the inside – in some cases, literally. A quick tweet could potentially put you in contact with someone who, for example, can see where the action is, was at the event or knows one of the key players.

Use the search function to find out if someone is talking about what is happening. People are often quick to tweet if they have seen or experienced something out of the ordinary. You can potentially strike up a relationship with a witness or participant.

In some instances, tweeters may have already posted photos or video, or be in a position to take some for you.

Twitter will get you contacts

If you need an expert or someone with inside knowledge, then twitter can most certainly help. It’s the virtual equivalent to standing in a crowded room and saying: “Does anyone know someone involved in today’s big story? I want to speak to them, please pass it on.”

Only the difference is that instead of looking at you strangely and backing away, the citizens of twitter will try to help or pass on your request to their followers.

Twitter will find you case studies

The great feature idea stands or falls on the quality of its case studies… and finding good case studies can be a bit of a nightmare. And, of course, the more obscure, the more difficult.

Simply tweet a polite request for whatever you are looking for and ask people to re-tweet (pass the request on to their followers).

Twitter will furnish you with reaction

Back to the ‘crowded street’, twitter is a speedy way of conducting a vox pop without going out in the rain. Just ask what people what they think.

In some instances, the kind of reaction you are looking for has already been posted.

You can ask twitter in general or you can direct your question to someone specific. Of course, there’s no guarantee that they’ll read your tweet or respond, but it’s often worth a try.

While what’s been posted on twitter is, in effect, published in the public domain, it is courteous to let people know you are going to quote them.

However, before you jam your Press card into your hatband and dive into the twitter stream, if you’re new to it, there are a few things you need to know….

Be a real person

The fact you’re an ace reporter with lots of years of experience won’t cut it on twitter unless you show yourself to be a real person who is prepared to engage with the community and use the full spectrum of good manners.

What this means is creating a profile for yourself that uses a picture of you and explains a little about you the person. “My name is Bill and I am a journalist interested in health stories. I have three kids and love curry,” with a grinning photo of Bill will play better than “W Hack, health correspondent” with a logo of his paper.

Then use pleases and thank yous liberally. Brusk messages and a lack of gratitude will quickly turn people off you.

Use a hashtag

Hashtags are words preceded by # that are used to signify tweets on one topic. They are useful for searching all tweets on that subject.

The hashtag #journorequest is worth noting. Doing ‘what it says on the tin’, it’s a request from a journalist. However, the hashtag means it’s more likely to get shared and retweeted.

Retweet other people’s requests generously.

Have fun and play nice

Twitter is a community rather than a tool. If you want people to know you and help you out, then you need to spend a little time ‘hanging out’ in the community. Just old-fashioned networking and contact cultivating but in a different way.

Equally, be honest and open. The generally friendly and welcoming world of twitter will quickly turn on you if you don’t keep to the rules of good manners and truth.

I look forward to seeing you in the twittersphere. I’m @Ellen27, come and say hello.

Ellen Arnison worked for the Daily Star of Scotland and the Scottish Daily Mirror. She now works freelance, including writing, subbing, search engine optimisation, brand journalism, ghost blogging, blogging, copywriting and social media. She is the author of ‘Blogging for Happiness: A Guide to Improving Positive Mental Health (and Wealth) from Your Blog’.