The importance of notifications

As Twitter celebrates its tenth birthday, its influence on journalism has become significant. As part of a series leading up and celebrating its tenth birthday, SPJ Digital is looking at Twitter’s influence, as well as best practices and advice.

Here, Alyssa Bloechl, of the Door County Advocate in Wisconsin, considers notifications on Twitter and the culture of reporting on the platform.

Twitter, which celebrated its tenth birthday March 21, has allowed journalists to engage with audiences in new ways. (Photo via Anthony Quintano/Flickr under CC)

There are an exponential amount of ways a journalist can use Twitter in their work, be it learning about breaking news, connecting with sources or live-tweeting an event. However, a recent exchange with someone in my community got me to thinking about how the Twitter accounts of journalists can be tools for readers.

Obviously, Twitter is a way to share breaking news that readers look to retweet, but I think more day-to-day tweets from journalists sharing their finished stories or reporting from an important meeting are not necessarily getting the attention they deserve.

The exchange, concerning a coming major detour routing through the downtown business district, went as follows:

Me: “Hi, how are you? Do you have a few minutes?”

Source: “Yeah, I’m free. You want to talk about the detour?

Me: “Um, yes. How did you know that’s why I was calling?”

Source: “I saw your tweet and figured out why you’d be calling. I get notifications for all of your tweets.”

I was stunned. She has notifications for me, a person with under 600 followers and an unverified account.

As a tweeter for some time, I began reflecting on this. I was mostly honored to learn she sees ALL of my tweets, but then nervous she might turn them off when she realized I don’t tweet just stuff I’m working on. (I’ve recently gotten into the fun habit of tweeting with GIFs.)

The Twitter snob in me thought, what worth would all of my tweets have for her? I only turn on the notifications on an account when I know a local journalist or news source is covering a breaking event and I need/want to keep up on what they are saying. Once the event is over, I turn them off.

Alyssa Bloechl of The Door County Advocate in Wisconsin says notifications can help engagement on Twitter, especially for community reporters. (Photo via LinkedIn)

After some thought, I tried to put myself in my source’s shoes. She is the director of a local tourist organization and a well-known community member. If I were in her position, it would be to my benefit to keep up on the day-to-day tweets of a journalist, as they would typically tweet about local news and ongoing stories, which would help me in my work.

She mentioned she appreciates all of my tweets when reporting at city meetings and she even mentioned a string of live tweets I had put together while in the courtroom a few days before.

I have concluded that it is entirely possible that people other people may use Twitter notifications to source local journalists. As a result, I took to Twitter!

Through a poll, I encouraged followers to tell me if they 1) Use notifications, 2) Do not use notifications or 3) Do not know what notifications are. I referenced this as a way they may gather the news on the social network.

As a low-profile account, I got a grand total of 11 responses. 45 percent of those polled indicated they do not use notifications, 36 percent do use them and 19 percent did not know what they were.

It’s not much to work with in terms of the millions that use Twitter, but I believe that margin between using notifications and not can be closed with the right marketing. If journalists took the opportunity to encourage readers and followers to turn on notifications for their tweets, I think communities will have opportunity to be more informed.

That information can empower further sharing and possible social action based on what the journalist is tweeting about while on the job.

I also think if journalists are also thinking about people actually reading all of their tweets and the writer is not just sending characters off into a mass of other tweets, we may become more thoughtful and responsible when tweeting for our audience.

We local journalists can make a difference, encourage readership and tweet responsibly and ethically about their community’s happenings. I know I’ll be working on getting more people to turn on notifications.

Alyssa Bloechl, an SPJ member, is a reporter with the Door County Advocate in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. You can interact with Bloechl on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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