Posts Tagged ‘hashtag’


Twitter tips for Black Friday reporting

Black Friday sale logoFew holiday traditions embolden us and irritate us at once like Black Friday.

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.

Keep those tweets short and sweet

Kind of silly, huh, telling people to be brief on Twitter? After all, who can possibly wax wordy with only 140 total characters?

The answer: everyone.

It turns out that tweets using the full count are not as widely read as those running 20 to 40 characters less, public relations and social media analysts say. For one thing, Twitter is a scannable medium, something we can read in a glance. A simple sentence —  subject, verb, object and little else — registers with us faster than a sentence padded with adjectives, adverbs and pronouns. Those supplementary words may be good for grammar, but they can act like speed bumps on Twitter, slowing down our understanding of what’s said.

For another thing, the shorter the tweet, the more likely that followers will fill out the rest of the empty space behind it with ideas of their own, because the Twitterverse abhors a vacuum.

So, when you tweet, keep it short and sweet. But in striving to do this, make sure those tweets have one or more of these things:

At least one link — Web links make tweets valuable by providing more information than the tweet can do on its own. Readers see such tweets as portals to other places they may not already know about. The result: tweets with links are two to three times more likely to be read than tweets without them.

At least one “hashtag” — Prefaced with the pound sign (example: #SPJ), any word or string of connected words becomes a searchable element in Twitter. Hashtags are essential to search strings and topic lists, so including a tag greatly improves the chances that a tweet will turn up in searches by other Twitterers not already in your network.

A reference to at least one other Twitterer — Mentioning at least one other Twitterer fairly guarantees that tweet will trickle through said Twitterer’s network. That’s because social media is, at its heart, an ego-driven tool, and the more egos you massage, the more likely those egos will massage you in return.

A photograph — Social media is increasingly a visual experience, as the rapid rise of Pinterest and Facebook’s purchase of Instagram can attest. That’s why more photos have been appearing on Twitter via tools such as TwitPic. As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” or a thousand more than fit in a tweet. By some estimates, tweets with photos are five times more likely to be retweeted.

A full biography — There’s not much room to muse in Twitter’s bio space, either, but a concise self-description attracts other Twitterers as much as a well-reasoned or witty comment. Openness is attractive; people tend not to engage others on social media who avoid being forthcoming about themselves.

David Sheets is a sports content editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at dsheets@post-dispatch.com, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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