Talent Twitter 101

Twitter now appears firmly entrenched in the TV news business. But its application has been, in practice, all over the map, especially where talent are concerned. Some get it immediately and embrace it fully. Others…not so much. Many of the networks themselves are working hard at social media integration. NBC for example has a team of people dedicated to it and have held seminars/webinars on the subject – though it’s not clear to me whether they’ve established internal guidelines/recommendations on the matter and work actively with talent to facilitate a more robust Twitter impact. CNN is big on social media but I’m not aware of their social media team, if it exists. FNC? No clue at all. Though many of their talent are on Twitter I don’t get a sense of any organization behind the drive.

In an effort to help out some of those who might not quite fully understand the power of Twitter and how to utilize it for maximum advantage, here are my thoughts and suggestions regarding how to approach and use Twitter.

Have a plan. It sounds like overkill but understanding what you are doing on Twitter, what you want to achieve via Twitter, and what is expected from your followers on Twitter are extremely important concepts. If you just waltz in willy nilly with no gameplan, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Are you going on Twitter to be active or passive? If passive, stop reading this. You just want to read tweets and you’ve done enough already to achieve that. But if you want to be active and broadcast out to others and you really want to maximize your Twitter account’s impact, there are a lot of things you should consider doing and a lot of things that are expected of you.

The term “less is more” is the antithesis of where you should be headed. If you don’t have the time or energy to invest in Twitter you’re not going to be very successful at it. Your network can blast your Twitter handle all day long but if there’s no meaningful content on it, it’ll be all for naught.

If you only regurgitate segment clip links from your show that’s a strike against your account. Your account has no personalization. Worse, it’s boring. In any case, most networks already have a dedicated account for spewing out segment clip links so there’s little value add to your account if you only tweet segment clip links.

If you only tweet news headlines that’s a strike against your account. As with clip link regurgitation only accounts, it’s boring. More importantly, there are better, quicker, more well known Twitter feeds out there to handle that. And the Twitter savvy who are interested in such things are already following them. Again, there’s no value add here.

If you only tweet sporadically that’s a major strike against your account. This isn’t two years ago. The rules have changed since then. If you have an account you need to be on it every day you can – weekends are optional unless you’re working on a weekend but M-Fr is mandatory – and multiple times per day are preferred. Doing a tweet in the morning and then that’s it? Not going to cut it.

You have a personality and so should your Twitter account. Talent should view Twitter accounts as extensions of their personality. How much and how detailed is up to you. But if one could take your tweets and put someone else’s name on them and nobody notices a difference…that means your account is devoid of a personality. Granted, personality is tough to bring out in just 140 characters but the secret to success for Twitter account personalization isn’t measured by cramming as much personality as possible into a single tweet but by adding a little flavor to many tweets over time. This is why being on Twitter every working day and multiple times per day matters.

I said that talent should view Twitter accounts as extensions of their personality. There’s a corollary to this; Twitter followers want to know who is doing the tweeting. If your account is also accessed by a producer or writer…anyone besides you…they need to be clear that you aren’t the one doing the tweeting…they are. All tweets from a talent account but not from the talent should have some sort of signature indicating that the talent isn’t the author of that particular tweet. It would be best if the talent was the only tweeter as it eliminates confusion over the tone and personality of the account but that’s not always possible for various reasons.

Twitter accounts are not islands on a vast ocean. They are houses in a neighborhood. Nobody lives in a neighborhood without interacting with their neighbors. Those that don’t interact with their neighbors are viewed as isolationists. And that’s a bad thing for an active Twitter account. Interacting with follows, interacting with followers (more on that in a moment), doing RTs when appropriate or necessary, and providing exclusives (more on that too in a moment) will all add value and robustness to your account and make it more part of the active Twitter ecosystem.

Interacting with followers is not exactly straightforward. There are all kinds of mitigating factors, not the least of which is your own personal comfort level. But one needs to understand that many followers of talent Twitter accounts rightly or wrongly view the account as a both a portal into the talent and a bulletin board for that talent’s activities which at a minimum translates into knowing what the talent is up to regarding their on air duties. If the talent is going to have a report air, make a special on air appearance, go on assignment, do a phone-in…anything that’s planned in advance and is not related to their regular duties…followers want to know about it well beforehand so they have the option of tuning in or setting their DVR. And you must play by west coast rules. If you tweet that you’ve got something going on at 8am ET and you put the tweet out at 5am ET, most of your west coast follows are going to miss it. Do it the night before.

You’re going to get questions and comments. When, whether, and how you choose to answer is up to you. There is no iron clad rule governing this. Followers hope for some level of back and forth with the talent but it’s not expected. I’ve seen talent spend lots of time responding to questions and I’ve seen talent spend absolutely zero time responding to questions. I’ve seen talent respond to questions and comments I would never respond to if I were in their shoes…questions and comments that probably shouldn’t have been asked in the first place. Just remember that you can block followers. This won’t stop them from seeing your tweets but it will spare you from some of the rude and inappropriate commentary that’s guaranteed to come your way.

Earlier I mentioned “providing exclusives” as a means to add value to your Twitter account. The term “providing exclusives” is a euphemism for providing content that can’t be given out through any other means. This is, I believe, one of the most precious jewels of Twitter which is severely underutilized by talent. The content can take a myriad of forms ranging from pictures to behind the scenes information to exclusive videos. The only limits are in your imagination. Rick Sanchez exploited this for maximum effect when he was with CNN and nobody has come close to matching it since. I’ve seen some talent take periodic stabs at it now and again but the implementation has been rather lacking and the follow through has been inconsistent. Just throwing up a 30 second video shot that day regarding some otherwise normally moribund subject isn’t a winning strategy. You have the opportunity to add real depth and breadth to your feed here. Don’t aimlessly mess around with this or that. This tool at your disposal is the one with the greatest potential to communicate to your followers what makes you tick, what drives you, what interests you in the TV news medium, and what you/your show are all about. It can give your followers real insight into your professional world without sacrificing your personal space which is none of their business in the first place.

Regarding the matter of your personal space. The general rule of thumb is do what you’re comfortable with. If you want to tweet about some trip you’re doing or some activity you have planned, then go for it. If you don’t, then don’t. You can personalize your feed without going there. While there are some followers who would just love to know what you do with your downtime, well…they can want what they want but they can’t always have what they want. The onus is on them to understand that there are barriers between talent and fans and the it’s always up to the talent to decide when or if any of those barriers will be removed. Just keep in mind that if you do decide to delve into your off hour activities you can go too far.

Twitter is all about back and forth. What you put into it is reflected by what comes back to you. If you put little into it, you get little back. If you put a lot into it, your account will start to take on must follow status. And I don’t have to tell you that in today’s internet age must follow status is where it’s at. Hopefully these suggestions will lead to more consistent Twitter output by talent and maybe make the networks think about investing more in getting their talent on the path towards a strong vibrant Twitter account.

6 Responses to “Talent Twitter 101”

  1. lonestar77 Says:

    And most importantly…

    Don’t tweet a pic of your weenie.

    Overall, good points. But, what do I know, I don’t tweet.

  2. Here’s one that drives me crazy. If you’re going to answer/retweet people who hate you, throw your fans a bone, too. The Red Eye crew is terrible about this. They’ll jump on twelve haters before paying the least bit of attention to a supporter. Yeah, I get that the hate stuff is funnier, but it leaves the impression that the only way to get your attention is to be a tool.

  3. Or RT’ing people who are clearly nuts. What exactly is the point? “See, my enemies are really crazy, so you shouldn’t listen to them!” So Joan Walsh RT’s hers, and Jonah does his, and what have we learned? You learn damn quick not to respond to any of them.

  4. motownman Says:

    Fox seems to leave it up to their individual reporters what to do. Some use Twitter a lot, some use Facebook and not Twitter, some use both and some ignore their fans altogether.

  5. […] ICN: Returning to my cable news social media agnosticism, one of the reasons I am such an agnostic is because of the way I have observed the two big platforms Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook being harnessed to a fraction of their potential by networks in general and talent in particular. I became so frustrated that I ended up writing a blog post on the subject called Talent Twitter 101 […]

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