Once a hallmark of dread in this country — in the 1960s, it referred to the day President John F. Kennedy was shot — Black Friday turned a profitable shade of green around 2005 when brick-and-mortar stores unilaterally realized its potential as a deal-making gimmick to stem losses from online-only Christmas retailers.
(That was back when the two were still rather distinct. Now, online retailers have their own arbitrary holiday observance, Cyber Monday.)
It’s arguable whether Black Friday has turned from gimmick to myth. Even though 141 million Americans elbowed and shoved each other on the way toward spending an estimated $57 billion on that day in 2013, a study by The Wall Street Journal found that over the previous six Black Fridays, shoppers actually found better deals on other days before Christmas.
Nevertheless, the madness in the aisles returns this week followed by an army of journalists employing social media — Twitter and Instagram in particular — to chronicle the ersatz tradition.
For shoppers brave enough wade through the crowds, perhaps the best advice is to wear pads and a helmet. But for journalists bobbing in Black Friday’s wake, these tweeting tips are paramount:
Always include hashtags, but not too many — Attaching a “#” to the front of a word or conjoined phrase turns it into metadata that search engines sift for and then regurgitate as trend topics. Using them enables Twitter users to find relevant conversations and terms quickly, whether that term is a store name, a popular gift, or a sales event. But limit the number of hashtags to three per tweet; it’s good Twitter protocol.
Be wary of “wow” promotions — Retailers recast themselves as newsmakers when they have big in-store promotions and make liberal use of “first” and “biggest” and “best” and similar unqualified terms to push their products. Before heading to the stores, research retailers’ Twitter accounts — distinguished with an “@” in front of their names instead of a hashtag — as well as brand accounts and compare feeds. Also, it helps to research a store’s or brand’s social media history to see whether supposed Black Friday discounts are better than or comparable to deals at other times of the year.
Track user engagement — Those hashtags come in handy when watching shopper and retailer behavior, but journalists have to pay attention to others’ feeds and not tweet blindly. Monitoring feeds enables reporters to see what people around them are doing and reduces the mistake of tweeting or retweeting contradictory or incorrect information.
Keep an eye on time stamps — And speaking of mistakes, Twitter’s habit of bumping popular tweets to the top of everyone’s feeds also creates confusion about when and where events actually happen. Consequently, in the rush to report, journalists may mistake old feeds for current ones. Take a second to look carefully at the time and date in gray to the right of the tweeter’s account name. Sure, it’s hard for old eyes to see, but a squint beats a gaffe every time.