13 October 2008

Twittering on...

Journalist Dave Lee recently wrote an interesting blog post about using Twitter. As a Twitter user myself, I've found it incredibly useful. I subscribe to a number of useful news feeds from various media organisations and most of my tweep crowd are fellow hacks or flacks - it's good to be able to swap links on interesting new stuff (you never know when that might trigger an idea for a pitch). I've been offered the opportunity to beta-test new tech products and I've chatted to editors about possible topics for features (I once saw a colleague pitch an idea to an ed and secure the deal, all by tweeting!). I also use it as my water-cooler to chat to colleagues and my handful of non-work friends using it.

I had tried Twitter last year but didn't "get" it at the time. This time round, I picked up on its uses right away.

Dave Lee is absolutely right when he points out that news organisations such as the Beeb need to sort out their Twitter feeds and also engage in conversation. I use the BBC Magazine feed - while it follows me back, my attempts to engage in conversation have been met with silence. What's that all about? I'd really like to build a relationship with BBC Magazine via Twitter, as one day I might pluck up the courage to pitch them. Not responding means you might as well just pump out a bog-standard RSS feed if you don't want to converse with your followers.

Most of the hacks I follow tweet a well-balanced mix of links to their articles or blogs, or links to other stuff of interest, chit-chat on newsworthy topics (yes, we're all chucking in our tuppenceworth on the financial crisis right now) and personal stuff. Those I followed who turned out to be only tweeting what they ate for lunch or whatever, I unfollowed fairly quickly. My day is full enough already and there's no space for that kind of pure trivia - it's best left to blogs or chatting to mates on Yahoo Messenger.

I blogged the other day that Stephen Fry has joined Twitter and how rapidly he got followed by thousands (and also very generously began following many of us in return too). I hope Fry's Twitter experience won't be as crippling as his Facebook one - he was obliged to create a fan page on Facebook to manage his massive fanbase and the demands it put on his already limited time. Twitter definitely seems to work best when you exercise some control over who you follow and (occasionally) let follow you back. That said, Fry's already been regaling us with some splendid photos hot from his trip to Kenya (including the notch of a rhino's ear!) and it's fun to have this little peep into his extraordinary life. I enjoy tennis ace Andy Murray's tweets for the same reason.

Twitter is definitely at its best when it combines focus and the personal and is reciprocal.

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