The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism is ordinarily an incredible resource for understanding modern media trends, but its most recent study asked the wrong questions about how mainstream media outlets use Twitter.
Pew’s content analysis found that the top news organizations use Twitter predominantly as a one-way promotional tool for their own content, meaning that the media’s institutional Twitter accounts churn out links that take followers back to news and features stories, videos, photos, etc. This confirms the obvious.
More and more of us get our news, especially breaking news, delivered online. Busier schedules and more multitasking have fueled a greater reliance on mobile devices – the best vehicle for Twitter. At the same time, with print circulation and broadcast viewership declining amid a growing online buffet of news and information, the largest media outlets are working hard to attract empowered, wireless consumers.
Where Pew fell well short of its normally high standards was with its deduction that “individual reporters were not much more likely than the news institutions to use Twitter as a reporting tool or as a way to share information produced by those outside their own news organization.”
Not only was the data sample too small -- an examination of the Twitter feeds of 13 individual journalists – but the conclusion flies in the face of the reality that PR professionals see every day on their own feeds.
Reporters are increasingly using Twitter as a listening tool through activities that are invisible to anyone watching their public habits. They are developing story ideas and new angles from individual posts and trends they see. They are receiving story pitches through Twitter (usually through private direct messages). They are connecting with sources that lead to offline conversations and relationships. They are identifying consumers to interview and quote. They are using Twitter to maintain a rapport with private and public sector spokespeople.
Those activities are and always have been the bread and butter of the best journalists, all of whom are naturally reluctant to chat openly about their methods. In the “old days” (like 10 years ago!), reporters could be reporters by getting on the phone and getting out of the office and into neighborhoods. Today, far fewer mainstream reporters are being asked to produce far more content and produce it faster.
Twitter gives them a new way to get their jobs done, while building the personal brand that is so important to stand out in the social media clutter.
It’s no accident that more and more media outlets are publishing the Twitter addresses of their reporters and editors. The primary reason is commercial. Media are trying to transition to an online business model. But they also want more and better stories and tips. In a World-Wide Web of choices, great content remains the key to differentiation that builds audience and loyalty.
Enterprises, industries and institutions should not rely on this unusually shallow Pew analysis for direction on how to integrate social media tools into their media relations strategy.