Twitter has a long way to go

Working with journalists on social media initiatives and devouring tech blogs that post a lot of social media analysis caused me to lose touch with reality a little. It’s easy to be in my bubble surrounded by people who easily switch between Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus while happily trying out whatever new social media wagon comes along next.

This morning on Facebook, my favorite chef, Michael Symon posted the following:

Chef Symon sends his tweets to his Facebook fanpage automatically, but still monitors comments and wall posts when he has time. Recently, he had shut down fans’ ability to post on his wall because of the ever-present troll factor that got to be too much to manage. I can see why he would prefer Twitter over Facebook for communication.

But the comments on his post above are interesting and eye-opening because his fans are not journalists, or tech mavens. They are teachers or stay-at-home parents, or students, or clerks – in other words they are a cross-section of the majority of everyday people. And boy, quite a few of them hate Twitter. Or they refuse to learn it.

Check out some of the comments:

All of these popped my little bubble, so to speak, and made me realize that as much as I love and adore Twitter, I really am not sure it will ever be what Facebook is (or what Google Plus hopes to be.) While frustrating, these people make good points about communication and ease of use. To me, Twitter is easier to understand than Facebook, but then I’ve been on it for years so of course I “get it.” Coming into it cold, however, I can now see why it seems overwhelming. There’s no immediacy of feedback like there is on Facebook. If I join Facebook it’s because I already know friends and family using it. If I join Twitter, I can pretty much follow celebrities I like but finding my friends and family there is not easy and if I tweet anything it feels like I’m tweeting in a void.

Now, I have always said that Twitter is what you put into it. That is the mantra for any social network. If you barely use it, of course it will be useless to you. You have to expend some effort – especially on Twitter and I think that’s where Twitter degrades for new users.

Twitter needs to educate “newbies” when they sign up – not inundate them with famous people they can follow. It feels like Twitter expects people to “get it” from the outset when it should be investing time and screen space in ensuring that they get it once they are fully signed up. It needs to find a way to hang onto new users and find a better way to connect them to people they already know and who will @reply back to them. Perhaps a dedicated group of Twitter employees to engage with new users or I don’t know, someone code a ‘bot or something that tweets back and forth with newbies and walks them through the language of ‘tweets’ and ‘mentions’ and ‘@replies’ and ‘retweets.’

I just don’t think Twitter is helping itself very much by just signing people up and expecting them to get it.

 

Moving to a new CMS

In all of our ownership changes, I think this is actually just third time we’ve switched our entire website from back-end to front-end. We’ve gone through many iterations of the website itself, but the back-end hasn’t fluctuated much. And until now, we’ve always been sort of “stuck” on out-dated and clunky systems. Every time I have bemoaned Town News’ NewsSys software on Twitter I generally get a lot of sympathy.

At the end of 2011, we began working on a transition to Town News’ much improved BLOX system, complete with a fair bit of website revamping (but nothing too drastic that would freak out our readers.) But most of all, it required a fairly big change for the way we publish stories online. The copy desk had to alter their routines quite a bit, and while BLOX is much nicer and definitely more powerful, there’s a learning curve that we’re still traversing.

But gone are the days of having to publish the website every time we update the site. Gone too are the constant re-ordering of priorities to position stories where we want them. We still struggle with the new way of prioritizing, but we’ll catch on and get it flowing smoothly. And because we don’t have to publish the site when we add a story (once a story is added either manually or via .xml, it is live on the website) we now need to change the publish date or set a story as Do Not Publish if it’s not ready for public viewing. Learned that the hard way after some lifestyle stories went up on the site with our internal slug as the headline. Oops 🙂

Some of the things I really like:

  • Searching for articles, images – anything really in the back-end just became a whole lot easier. Love it.
  • The ability to move ‘blocks’ around easily according to our needs is fantastic.
  • The incorporation of ‘If you go’ boxes, bio boxes, youtube videos etc into a story is wonderful.
  • Not having to publish all the time is a timesaver.
  • It just *feels* refreshing, both the back-end and the redesign. I am a fan.

Some things I either don’t like or am still learning:

  • Prioritizing for the slider and the subsections is confusing. Still learning.
  • The whole caching issue Town News has is, well it’s irritating. I understand the reasons for it, I really do. But waiting anywhere from 1 to 30 to sometimes 60 minutes for a story pushed from InCopy/Falcon and never knowing which it’s going to be is agonizing in the news biz. And even cut & pasting a story manually yet still having to possibly wait 5 minutes before it’s live on the site is agonizing when you’re waiting to tweet the story. I understand they offer a preview function so you can check it before it goes live, but that doesn’t mean anything if you’ve got a breaking story, competition from other news outlets, and no way to send readers to the story as soon as it’s proofed for web. I hope this is something Town News will consider addressing in the future.

Other than that, I’m really pleased with BLOX as a whole. We have had a few readers complain about the new look, but I’ve never heard of a redesign that didn’t have people that simply dislike change. For my part, the transition was fairly smooth, with a few bumps, but I know it was rockier for my boss and the tech manager in my department as they worked with Town news to get everything we want. But I would like to say Town News has a great team and has made this normally painful process easier.

Learning valuable lessons in the newsroom

Yesterday, I learned a few things about the ever-uphill road of getting reporters on board with Twitter and/or Facebook.

Here is an email I sent out to everyone that, I swear, started off with just wanting to share a helpful link with them and keep Twitter in their minds:

This is an EXCELLENT resource for the newsroom and using Twitter to research, mobile tweeting, hashtags and more.

http://media.twitter.com/newsrooms

Some of you have Twitter accounts – even if you didn’t know it – and I have your login info and am available *anytime* you want to learn more about this important and really valuable tool. Come find me. And to those of you who don’t have an Indy Twitter account yet (like our awesome new photog), I’d be happy to get one set up for you.

Please consider learning more about Twitter and social media in general – I can sit with you one-on-one if you like. Lately, we are constantly getting scooped on Facebook and Twitter by other media outlets, and while I know it’s important to get the story for print, in today’s media, a breaking story is old by the time the reporter gets back in, writes the story and someone reads it before it’s posted online. Our readers are starting to turn elsewhere when something breaking happens.

Even just a quick tweet saying, ‘Accident at 281 and Webb – details online soon’ would help. We have to shift our thinking just a little bit if we’re going to stay relevant in the future. So that’s why I might seem a little aggressive in this email. I may go into nag mode until I get all of you using Twitter, even just a little 😉

I hit ‘send’ before I could talk myself out of it and for the rest of the day, I went from frustration to elation when one of the reporters I believed was the least interested in social media approached me and told me that her concern wasn’t the technology – it was that she felt she didn’t have access to the technology. Blew. My. Mind.

It’s something I bemoan a lot here. I believe every reporter should be provided with a smartphone – or at the very least, access to a smartphone to take out in the field when needed. We managed to get a Droid that is used by our online reporter/videographer and he often tweets as @girightnow when he’s out. And that is fabulous and that is a LOT more than some small newsrooms get. But some of my journalists are using Razr phones with no texting plans. I mean seriously. Razrs. And while it’s awesome that we have our online guy, we also need our beat reporters to be more involved in tweeting.

So we gave the Droid to the reporter going to a board meeting today to see if she could manage a few tweets – so far she is rocking it and I am over the bloody moon. As I talked with my boss about this yesterday, I learned that we need to make sure the reporters will actually use the technology before we go out and splash a bunch of cash on it. We’ve been burned before (I’m looking at a dusty Zi8 video camera we bought in hopes of having the reporters grab it and go all the time) and so this time, we’re not going to get all excited and get ahead of ourselves until we’re sure they are on board.

The last thing I learned was that our paper’s Twitter/Facebook follower count has reached 1/5th of our print subscribers. That doesn’t include our “audience reach” of course, just the hard number of current subscribers, but that fraction also blew. my. mind.

I think we are finally past the “I don’t get it” stage or the “Who cares what they had for breakfast” stage. We’ve moved onto the “I need the technology first” stage. They get that Twitter and Facebook aren’t frivolous and unimportant. Now they just need to learn how to use them to their advantage.

Today I have two three reporters tweeting – one who had never done it before, and one who usually has trouble getting it to work for him. Today is a good day.

This is an EXCELLENT resource for the newsroom and using Twitter to research, mobile tweeting, hashtags and more.

http://media.twitter.com/newsrooms

Some of you have Twitter accounts – even if you didn’t know it – and I have your login info and am available *anytime* you want to learn more about this important and really valuable tool. Come find me. And to those of you who don’t have an Indy Twitter account yet (like Matt, our awesome new photog), I’d be happy to get one set up for you.

Please consider learning more about Twitter and social media in general – I can sit with you one-on-one if you like. Lately, we are constantly getting scooped on Facebook and Twitter by Steve White and 10/11 and other media outlets, and while I know it’s important to get the story for print, in today’s media, a breaking story is old by the time the reporter gets back in, writes the story and someone reads it before it’s posted online. Our readers are starting to turn to NTV when something breaking happens.

Even just a quick tweet saying, ‘Accident at 281 and Webb – details online soon’ would help. Another example is at big press conferences – Steve White is livetweeting all the info from them now and by the time we get something posted, everyone already has the info. Maybe it’s my inner competitor talking, but I want our 4.100 fans and followers getting their news from us, not Steve. We have to shift our thinking just a little bit if we’re going to stay relevant in the future. So that’s why I might seem a little aggressive in this email. I may go into nag mode until I get all of you using Twitter, even just a little 😉

If my mom was here…

My mother wrote stories all her life. Every year my dad bought her the latest Writer’s Market book for Christmas and she’d spend a lot of time submitting and resubmitting her stories and poems to magazines and publishers. Occasionally she’d get published, more often than not she’d get the dreaded rejection letter. It never stopped her though. She wrote because she was driven to do it. Creative urges boiled in her like a mad sea and she had to find ways to soothe it. She was a painter, a crafter and a writer.

It’s why I wish she was still alive to experience what’s happening in the book publishing world right now. E-readers, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Lulu… She would be in her element and the ability to self-publish would have delighted her beyond belief.

It delights me too. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m deviating from my usual newsroom/journalism/social media/freelance stuff here to talk a little bit about self-publishing. Like mom, I often feel overwhelmed with the need to be creative. Writing is my favorite thing to do, followed closely by photography and fiddling around with mixing audio loops into serviceable little tunes. A couple of years ago, I participated and actually completed NaNoWriMo (after a couple of failed attempts in previous years) and I’ve been working on that story refining/editing it since then. I will be selling it on Amazon when the editing is done. I don’t care if I only sell copies to friends and family – just the fact that I actually finished it makes me happy.

This is something I never would have tried to do if I hadn’t known I could publish the thing myself when it was completed. Years of watching my mom receive letters of rejection from publishing houses made me a little gunshy. Not now though. We truly live in an amazing time. I wish she could be here too.

Anyway, the book is called Revenants (Facebook, and Twitter), and it’s got elements of things I love. Like zombies. I love zombies. And a heroine with a funky name. And I had a blast making this book trailer:

And while I wait for my beta reader to do their editing magic (Read: wait for my sister to scour for typos and grammar errors), I am occupying myself  by writing (very) short stories and selling them for a buck on Amazon and B&N. Just one up so far called Everything Will Blow which is a story I wrote a few years ago and updated so I could get a feel for the self-publishing process. I have to say that Barnes & Noble is the easier/quicker process. Amazon’s isn’t bad but there are a couple of programs you have to download for conversions/previewing so it adds several more steps to the process.

I’ll be adding more while the book’s being edited, so if you have a Kindle, Kindle app or Nook, and need some quick reads, just search for me on Amazon or B&N! 🙂

Missing the point

A fundamental thing that Newspaper Journalists Against Twitter fail to remember is that while live-tweeting a presser or breaking news event is important, it’s never the whole story. Also, not all of our readers are using Twitter. Granted that number is dwindling every day, but there will always be someone who prefers to read the actual paper, or who will read an update online on their own time. That’s when it’s essential to take those tweets and the questions you got answered and turn them into a full story with details and facts and research and everything reporters actually do.

I just overheard a reporter say, “I hate that tweeting shit” in reference to the fact that the questions he had answered for his story were already tweeted. My heart died a little because I feel like I must not be doing my job properly.

I’ve been tweeting for the paper since 2007 and have trained and advocated and occasionally nagged everyone to get on the Twitter train. Some did, and some never ever will. But this person has a love/hate relationship with it and I can’t make him understand a) how it works and b) why it’s a good thing.

Things have changed. People want their news and information about 2-10 seconds after it happens, so that they can simply know about it. Once they are interested in an unfolding story, they will usually take the time to look for the in-depth articles that our reporters are so good at. They will want more details that can only be provided after everything is verified, fact-checked, sourced, and put together in a cohesive story. There’s room for both instant news, and fuller, in-depth news. One reaches a certain audience, and the other reaches them and everyone else.

Journalists should be embracing this stuff because it’s not going away. Learn how to adapt already, because I’m tired of banging my head against brick walls.

Freelancer

For the past 2 years, I’ve been lucky enough to get a growing number of freelance web gigs for local businesses in my town. I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I’m definitely grateful for the supplemental income to offset the past couple of paycuts we’ve had at the paper.

To that end, now that the number of sites I’ve helped with or rebuilt from the ground up has grown, I figured I’d better create a little portfolio of them. So here it is!

Yes, I primarily work with WordPress to power these websites. I do this for a few reasons:

  1. I’m a big advocate of Open Source where ever possible to save money for my clients. WordPress is reliable and powerful yet easy to learn.
  2. I prefer not to get into website maintenance once I’ve built a client’s website. WordPress allows me to train them to update and maintain their own website without incurring fees to pay me to do it. I know it sounds like I’m gypping myself out of money, but I have enough website maintenance to do at the paper. I don’t want to do it in my spare time as well.
  3. WordPress is just awesome.

I also try to work in some social media consulting whenever possible. Even if the business isn’t interested in it, at least I’ve put a bug in their ear for the future.

So it’s safe to say the freelance gigs are the reason I haven’t been very active here lately. Will attempt to rectify!

 

A small paper’s take on Google+

This is a very raw post on some preliminary thoughts on Google’s new toy. I’ve been playing with Google’s latest venture into the social media realm, Google +, for several days now and I really like it. Then again, I really liked Wave too so bear that in mind. My favourite feature so far is definitely the Hangout area where you can easily connect to several people in a video chat and share in there.Sure there are other video chatting options out there that folks have been using for ages, but Google makes it so simple that even my grandmother could figure it out.

There are some things I’m still trying to figure out, such as how to truncate long comment streams on some of the more popular users (like Scoble) – I’m sure there is a way, I just haven’t figured it out yet. I ended up removing him from my stream altogether even though I like his posts. The Circles feature would let me just view my family’s posts or just my friends’ stuff, but I kind of like having all my circles show up in the stream, so scrolling past hundreds of Scoble’s comments to see what my daughter just shared was getting on my nerves. And some posts DO truncate the comments, but Scoble’s never did and I can’t work out why.

I realize Google’s trying to roll this out slowly, but I really want to be able to add more people to my circles who can also use the service. So hopefully when it’s open for all, I will use it even more. And I’m really looking forward to the iPhone app. Safari mobile interface is ok, but can’t add photos.I haven’t played much with Sparks yet, but as an avid Google Reader user, I’m wondering if I need yet another thing I have to check all the time. I suffer from Notification Syndrome bad enough as it is.

Will I end up using G+ over Facebook in the future, or Twitter for that matter? Personally, I doubt it. Twitter is so integrated into my routines that it would be difficult to break the habit. And I have too many Facebook friends who won’t give two craps about Google+ because they’ll stay with what’s familiar.

Ryan Huff, in a comment on Jeff Jarvis‘ G+ stream said:

“I see G+ as the water cooler. Twitter provides the headlines, G+ provides the discussion. Facebook? They provide the gossip. With that said, what G+ becomes will depend on the tools that emerge. With integration into Seesmic and another established tools, it could morph into something more familiar.”

I completely agree.

Today, I managed to get my newspaper going on Google+, and that’s a whole different ball of wax compared to using it personally. I think it could be very useful if I can stream our headline tweets and Facebook fanpage posts into it. My philosophy for the paper is that we will bring you the news where ever you are. And if G+ is successful, we’ll provide our coverage there for you. But we’ll definitely need some API tools developed to coordinate everything. It took a long time to grow our Twitter followers and Facebook fans. I’m curious as to how quickly we can grow an audience and drive traffic on Plus. I suppose it’s finally time to add the +1 button into our stories 🙂

I hope it doesn’t fail. Google has a solid effort this time so here’s hoping.