Posts Tagged ‘instagram’

The social balance

Social media platforms are in a delicate balance when it comes to platforms and engaging users. (Photo: Visual Content/Flickr via Creative Commons)

In the world of social media, content is king, and for journalists, social media has allowed for new ways to not just inform audiences, but also to engage them – creating new dimensions in the relationship between consumer and news organization.

Yet, while there are benefits for journalists and news organizations in this relationship with social media, there also are questions as to the right balance – informing users versus attracting them.

For social media platforms, it is the matter of designing the right platform to curate these stories, and the algorithm that distributes them to users. This includes the most notable, Facebook, who has rolled out updates on stories and photos in an attempt to compete with Snapchat, which has been a notable app because of its ability to engage younger audiences.

For news organizations, it is the matter of staying true to the goals at the core of journalism – informing, engaging and stimulating, while trying not to be too content heavy, leading to people unfollowing them on Twitter or unliking them on Facebook.

It all comes down to the question both social networks and news organizations are facing: “How much is too much?”

As the right way to handle this is debated and put forward, and strategies are tweaked, there must be the consideration of the people who will ultimately be at the receiving end of these strategies – the audience.

When writing about the changes for Facebook, Casey Newton, an editor for the technology news web site The Verge, included a section in his story on the social network’s introduction of Stories, and wider implications.

Among them is this:

“Where should you post your daily story now becomes a daily concern for a certain subset of youngish, social media-savvy people,” Newton wrote. “Facebook says stories belong everywhere that people are talking online, but what if the format is a fad? And what if forcing it on users across its entire family of app leads to a general fatigue with the idea? The company says each of its apps has a distinctive audience, and I believe it. But there’s also plenty of overlap. There’s a risk here that Facebook’s mania for stories will be interpreted as overkill by its users, and the feature will ultimately fade into the background. (This happened with live video!)”

In other words, on the whole, its the delicate balance that social platforms like Facebook have to play in order to attract users but also try not to put them off. Because of the importance of the content, be it a photo or video based story on Instagram, going live on Facebook, or creating a Moment on Twitter, social networks are trying to be distinct in how they can get the most audiences possible – for content can support a platform’s future.

A new platform or new feature brings the potential for more users on the social network, and the opportunity for news organizations to increase their audience on that particular platform. That opportunity also raises the question of prioritizing stories, and what platform gets to be the lucky recipient of the story.

But considerations must be made for why the story is there on that social network in the first place. Are you posting a story on Facebook because people really need to know about it, or are you putting up on Snapchat a customized dancing cat video merely designed to expand your reach and the number of eyeballs on the post?

It is important that audiences are informed and engaged by journalists about the world around them – it is at the core of SPJ’s Code of Ethics’ steadfast value – seek truth and report it. It is also important that social media plays a role in informing and engaging audiences, as it is a reflection of the change in platforms where the news is curated and disseminated.

Yet, when all is said and done, both parties need to consider what is best for their audiences, instead of the opportunity to boost audience figures. After all, it isn’t about quantity, but quality, and that an accurate, fair and quality piece of work benefits everyone – instead of something rushed.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman 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.

Now streaming: The world

They have been common occurrences in our Facebook feeds over the last few weeks — a news organization, journalist or publisher on the social network sends a notification to its fans that its live doing an event or doing a Q&A on a subject.

Whether its The New York Times discussing the future of Apple amid the conclusion of the company’s 13 year growth streak or the BBC World Service interviewing a German historian about the country’s past, live-streaming has become a new way for news organizations to engage audiences in conversations, as well as inform them about particular events.

The adapting of live streaming in social strategies comes as video becomes an integral part of social engagement, either through videos curated through Snapchat’s Discover channels, segments posted on Twitter or even short clips on Facebook and Instagram. Video has become a core part of engaging audiences on social, no matter the event, and live streaming would become an essential component of it.

Indeed, for video, its not just limited to coverage of news events and Q&As. Recently, Twitter announced that it would live stream 10 NFL games over the course of the next season, a move that is likely going to indicate more Twitter based content and video from news organizations and reporters who cover sports, not just for the NFL, but for all sports, including the forthcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

More people are seeing journalism through live streaming, especially on Facebook. (Photo: Pixabay)

More people are seeing journalism through live streaming, especially on Facebook. (Photo: Pixabay)

Additionally, more live streams are likely to come from news organizations, whether its leading up to the final primaries, conventions, and indeed, the general election in November in the US, or towards the forthcoming referendum in the UK on its membership in the European Union, and its geopolitical implications. Live streaming is at the core for the strategy of social platforms, long marketed as hubs for the events that shape the world in real time.

Video continues to be key in engagement on social platforms. As a result, live streaming will be at its core, and those notifications you see on Facebook, and those posts about live coverage on Twitter, won’t be going away anytime soon.

While this remains mutually beneficial for both news organizations and indeed social networks, there is still a significant responsibility for news organizations when it comes to this content. If the content you produce is fair, accurate, impartial, and transparent, it will resonate with your audiences.

As I wrote in the lead up to SPJ’s Ethics Week (held last week), the influence of social media is still felt in today’s journalism, and the rules of ethics still apply, even if its on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or a different social platform.

After all, the content you produce for these platforms is not just to help engagement and the social strategy, but to do what all journalism does irrespective of platform — inform, educate and enlighten

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman 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.

Some cross border election advice

Caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire take place today, with many reporters focusing on candidates and what the scene could be ahead of November's elections. (Photo: Flickr user tom.arthur under CC license)

Caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire take place in a couple of weeks, with many reporters focusing on candidates and what the scene could be ahead of November’s elections. (Photo: Flickr user tom.arthur under CC license)

In a couple of weeks, in Iowa and New Hampshire, delegates from both the Democrats and the Republicans will begin the process that will formally confirm the nominees for both parties for the President of the United States, ahead of elections in November. That will culminate in July with both party conferences.

Along with the delegates will be plenty of reporters trying to make sense of this, what it means for specific candidates, and the whole of politics in the United States as a whole. Reporters will not only be looking after their specific platforms (be it print, web or broadcast) as well as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media networks.

The feeling is similar to that of the Canadian election, which took place last October and began in August after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper approached the country’s governor general, David Johnston, to call for the election. That election saw Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party (and the son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau) be given a majority in the House of Commons, taking the party from third place in polls to the top office in Canadian politics, based on the narrative that Canadians were ready for change after nearly a decade of leadership.

But at the helm of coverage (and indeed Trudeau’s strategy) was social media, and it was essential the night of the vote. Jessica Murphy, a freelance journalist based in the country’s capital, Ottawa, was at Trudeau headquarters the night of the vote, covering it for the British newspaper The Guardian.

In a telephone interview, Murphy said Trudeau’s election was profound, and that his personalities had contrasted with that of Harper, and his personality showed on social media, especially Twitter and Instagram.

“Canadians have known Trudeau for years,” Murphy said. “He was always known as a public figure. Trudeau could harness social media and his energy to talk to more of the population.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had social media at the core of his election strategy. (Photo: Alex Guibord/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had social media at the core of his election strategy. (Photo: Alex Guibord/Wikimedia Commons under CC)

Murphy said social media had grown between 2011 and 2015, the timespan of the recent elections in the country.

“Social media grew up,” Murphy said. “If you’re covering it you can see it was a part of their strategy. Candidates were rolling that into the overall election strategy instead of a side note. Social media is essential in today’s communications.”

Murphy had made plans the night before the vote, and was producing content from photos to contributions to The Guardian’s live blog, in addition to posts on social media, tracking the results of the ridings and calls. It leads to a piece of advice she could give to her American counterparts who will be covering the election process.

Murphy first suggests to take lots of photos, saying they work well on Twitter and get the feeling of the room. The other advice Murphy suggests is to look up from the phone, and get the feel of the room by talking to people. What people say would help describe the environment.

“[You’re doing] the necessary social work as a journalist but [it] ensures you’re doing work as a journalist,” Murphy said.

Ultimately, Murphy says, its down to balance, something most journalists are still trying to get use to considering the constant evolution of technology. She says social media can be overused or underused, and its about the balance of maintaining that presence as well as adding the color and extra content to describe the room that won’t make it on to the traditional platform.

“It’s great but it can be all consuming and the echochamber,” Murphy said. “You can’t have the nose in the phone. You need to look around — its just about remembering to do both. Its a matter of balance. We are all still learning.”

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member and founder of SPJ Digital, is SPJ’s Community Coordinator and is a contributing blogger to Net Worked on social media’s role in the future of journalism. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is Long Form Editor and a contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman 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.

Editor’s note: This post was amended at 11:22am CT to reflect an error in the dates of the caucuses. This was amended now due to a technical error preventing an amendment earlier today.

Tamara Keith on social political journalism


Instagram was unveiled as the largest growing social network last year, according to the Pew Research Center.
(Photo: Zenspa1/Flickr under CC license)

It was announced last week that Instagram was the fastest growing social network in 2014. The research from the Pew Research Center indicated that 26 percent of the US adult population was using the Facebook owned social photo and video site, an increase of 9 percent from 2013, while 53 percent of 18-29 year olds use the service.

The same week of that study, as speculation continued as to who would be running in the 2016 presidential election, former Florida governor Jeb Bush launched his PAC, Right to Rise, on Instagram, with Hunter Schwarz of the Washington Post writing that the 2016 election could be the first Instagram election.

The PAC for a campaign for Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is said to be considering a run for the presidency in 2016, is also on Instagram.

As Instagram continues its user growth, and as reporting continues on the lead up to the election across many media outlets, what are the implications for those who cover politics? Can Instagram be a beneficial social resource for the political beat?

Tamara Keith

NPR’s White House correspondent Tamara Keith. (Photo: Kainaz Amaria/NPR)

Recently, Net Worked spoke to Tamara Keith, NPR’s White House correspondent, about this as well as social media and political journalism. Below is that conversation.

NW: From a social standpoint, what role do you think Instagram has now when it comes to politics? What do you think the decision by Jeb Bush to launch his PAC on Instagram said about the network overall?

TK: The Obama White House uses Instagram quite effectively. They just posted a slick State of the Union “spoiler alert” video and on a daily basis post photos of the president related to the policies they are pushing at the time. That might mean a photo of a beautiful lake and mountain and a caption about climate change. But they have multiple official photographers and a videographer. The White House really uses Instagram as an outlet on its own.

Another politician who uses it effectively is Elise Stefanik (R-NY) who just became the youngest woman elected to congress. She instagrams pictures from her meetings with constituents and other stops in her very large district.

I think it is too soon to judge Jeb Bush’s effectiveness. He doesn’t have very many followers and his videos have a home-made feel, one shot in an airport and sort of back lit, the other shot while walking down the street in NYC.

Bush’s team also posted his videos on Facebook, where he has significantly more followers than on Instagram. So, I’m not convinced they really have an independent Instagram strategy. And truth be told, many users don’t have an independent Instagram strategy. It is fun to use and easy. But it also links directly to Facebook so it’s a sort of two for the price of one outlet (for me and a number of my reporter friends).

How do you think the idea of social media has affected how you think about covering politics and the idea of storytelling?

Social media is frequently just another part of my storytelling. I tweet or Instagram or post a vine as I am working on the story. Sometimes I even edit a short video.

Other times I get ideas or suggestions from people on social media, so it is very much a two way street.

And of course now we have to keep an eye on Facebook and Instagram and even LinkedIn because you never know when a politician is going to go around traditional media and take their news directly to their followers. They usually make sure we get the message, though, because they still need the amplification that comes from traditional media.

For politicians, there’s a multi-part advantage to going around us. 1. They reach their supporters directly and make them feel like there is a more personal connection. 2. We all still report it anyway. 3. While social media is still novel, the politicians get extra attention for the ways they use social media. They get extra stories or coverage from more tech-centered publications and blogs focused on their use of non-traditional media channels.

For politicians it is a win win win. For us in the media, it’s just a sign of the times. We’ve adapted.

Do you think Instagram has traditionally been taken for granted by the media? What would you say the perception was of Instagram within those who cover the White House and politics generally?

I think the perception of Instagram is that it is for fun, fun filters, pretty pictures. For me, I also like the freedom of 15 second videos rather than the 6 seconds of Vine. But I am still not totally convinced it has the power or influence of Twitter or Facebook.

For instance, with the Bush announcement videos, most media outlets used the Facebook version of the videos and said he had made the announcement on Facebook.

As a user of Instagram, from a journalism standpoint, when it comes to political coverage, what differences do you notice in Instagram allowing you to tell a story compared to Facebook and Twitter?

Instagram allows longer captions and longer videos, which is nice. But my audience (and I think most people’s) is smaller on Instagram so I almost never post something only on Instagram.

Last year my colleagues and I did a really fun project called #shevotes where we asked people to post pictures on Instagram about their first political memories, who or what got them engaged in the political process. We got a ton of really neat responses. We also did a call out on Twitter but the photos and captions on Instagram were far more meaningful. This became two blog posts on our It’s All Politics blog.

Generally speaking, how relevant do you think social media will be for those covering politics this year and going into the election? How do you see that applying to Instagram?

It’s hard to overstate how relevant social media will be. It will be part of our reporting process every single day, from candidates making announcements to local reporters posting about what they’re seeing in their communities.

But I’m still not sure about Instagram. The smart candidates will find a way to use it effectively because it is yet another avenue to get to people. And there are people who use Instagram far more regularly than Facebook (because there are too many articles you don’t want to see on Facebook). But the big numbers and influence are on Facebook and Twitter. At least that’s my perception of it based on where most of the political news comes from.

Alex Veeneman is a Chicago based SPJ member who is the acting chairman of SPJ Digital and community coordinator for the SPJ. Veeneman is also Deputy Editor, Media Editor and a contributing writer to Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can follow Veeneman on Twitter here.

Stop ignoring Instagram

BarsChristmas arrived early for Instagram. The photo- and video-sharing service announced this week that it reached a major milestone: 300 million monthly active members.

Not quite the audience of Facebook (over 1.4 billion), or Twitter (500 million tweets daily), but enough that journalists really ought to pay it more attention.

They don’t, or many of them don’t anyway, because Instagram still strikes senior scribes as a young people’s playground decorated with abundant square-shaped images of provocative selfies, tilted shots of half-eaten meals, and too many — way too many — artfully cropped portraits of people’s feet. Moreover, square images are rather confining for news photographers who prefer to see the world through a 4:3 aspect ratio.

After breaking down that huge membership number into digestible bits, one can understand the bias. In 2013, Instagram’s own research showed that 80 percent of users were under age 24, and over half of that group had yet to finish college. Among all teens, 30 percent consider Instagram more important in their social media lives than Facebook or Twitter.

But social media platforms age like the people who use them and, one hopes, mature. Between June 2012 and June 2013, Instagram’s member base doubled despite near saturation of the youth market. Growth in urban areas outpaced that of suburban ones. And the increase in the number of users who make at least $50,000 annually exceeded the increase among those who didn’t.

Besides, 300 million is a very big number — big like an oversized sofa in an undersized apartment. And journalists who just figured out Facebook or who just joined Twitter and cringe at the idea of trying to bend their minds around yet another hulking piece of technology must understand this.

They need to get over it and focus on one important point: By being the social hub for such large number of people who journalists and media owners still struggle to reach, Instagram serves well as a site for tracking the trends, comparing the perspectives, and monitoring the moods of a valuable demographic.

So, try these tips for optimal use of Instagram:

Follow the hashtags — Like Twitter, Instagram makes use of hashtags (words or unspaced phrases with a # prefix) that turn simple terms into searchable metadata. Users can compile lists from tags such as #Ferguson and #Ebola to sift for relevant content. And like Twitter, hashtag results appear in real time, so the newest content appears in the stream first.

Depending on the frequency of posts, new content displaces old content quickly at the top of a feed, and Instagram’s search is not robust. For better searching, try using a service such as Gramfeed.

Explore communities — Large groups of Instagram users sharing similar interests often form communities around those interests, marked by single hashtags. Among the most popular communities are #ThingsOrganizedNeatly, #FollowMeTo, #Silhouettes, and Throwback Thursday (#tbt), which consists of users’ old photos posted on, well, Thursdays. (Note: Hashtags are not case-sensitive, but using upper case to show where the smushed words begin displays social courtesy.)

Check location settings — Instagram has a location service that lets users attach location tags, or geotags, to their photos. This is valuable during breaking news events; users can zoom in on the mapping feature to see who else has shot photos or video nearby and verify their locations.

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.

What can Instagram’s new app do for journalism?

Instagram unveiled its new app, Hyperlapse, a couple of weeks ago. But does it have any benefits for journalism? (Photo: Zenspa1/Flickr under CC license)

Instagram unveiled its new app, Hyperlapse, a couple of weeks ago. But does it have any benefits for journalism?
(Photo: Zenspa1/Flickr under CC license)

This past August, Instagram unveiled its new Hyperlapse app, designed to create time lapse clips from videos. This week, it got its first outing in journalism, as it was used during coverage of New York Fashion Week.

Journalists from publications including The Wall Street Journal and Lucky used the app to create time lapse videos of catwalks during events. Outside of New York Fashion Week, the LA Times used it to capture visitors with the NHL Stanley Cup.

With this usage, can there be benefits for journalism when it comes to Hyperlapse? Not many examples of it being used emerge, but some in the industry, including Catherine Cloutier, a data journalist with the Boston Globe and a co-organizer of the Online News Association’s chapter in Boston, are saying there are benefits.

I imagine it would be an easier and more user-friendly way to do a time-lapse video, which newsrooms use to show dramatic change over a span of time,” Cloutier said, in an email to SPJ Digital.

Have you used Hyperlapse? What benefits do you see Hyperlapse having in journalism? Let us know what you think in our comments section, post on our Facebook page or tweet us.

Alex Veeneman is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists based in Chicago. Veeneman also serves as Special Projects Editor and writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can tweet him @alex_veeneman.

Instagram now lets you embed photos, video on websites

Instagram logoInstagram expanded its image-sharing capabilities Wednesday.

The social networking service unveiled a new feature that allows Web embedding for user photos and video. Before Wednesday, most sharing outside Instagram was limited to other social sharing sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Twitter.

Now, users can find share buttons next to their images appearing on Instagram’s website. Clicking on the button, located just south of the comment button, opens a small window containing an embed code that can be pasted into blogs, Web pages and news articles.

Below that code in the same window is a publish button. The photo or video includes an Instagram identity wherever it’s published.

As for technical details, that’s all Instagram said about the new feature. The rest of the service’s news release Wednesday dwelled on content ownership, which Instagram insists will remain with the image’s owner.

“Your embedded photo or video appears with your Instagram user name, and clicking on the Instagram logo will take people to your page on,” the release said.

In December, Instagram changed its terms-of-use policy to permit all user content as fodder for “paid or sponsored content or promotions.” The only way to avoid this was for users to delete their accounts.

Subsequent outcry from privacy advocates as well as Instagram users forced the service to apologize and change the policy after one day.

Instagram launched in 2010 originally for Apple platforms but grew to include Android devices in April 2012. That same month, Facebook acquired Instagram for about $1 billion in cash and stock.


David Sheets is a freelance editor, Region 7 director, and past-president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Pinterest and Instagram get married

Yes, this idea had to happen sooner or later: Two incredibly popular social tools have merged.

Pinstagram's "Popular" page

Pinstagram shares the same basic layout design as Pinterest.

And just last week, the merger occurred out of humor. It’s called Pinstagram, an amalgamation of Pinterest and Instagram employing the former’s downward-streaming interface design as a display setting for the latter’s broad public appeal of kitchy imagery techniques.

Ideally, Pinstagram provides a desktop environment for a mobile application that didn’t have one of its own, explained co-creator Pek Pongpaet in a Wired interview. This way, Instagram lovers now can view entire portfolio themes and concepts in a Web page-size environment distinct from Instagram lovers’ blog sites.

Not that this deeper realization originally factored into Pinstagram’s creation. Pongpaet revealed in Wired that he and business partner Brandon Leonardo concocted it as a joke — playing off the Pinterest and Instagram names — but saw value in the idea after mulling it awhile longer.

Because it’s so new, Pinstagram has only a few thousand image shares and even fewer members, but the registration rate has been prodigious. And Pinstagram possesses many of the same traits that make Pinterest a convenient and creative platform for photojournalistseducators and job hunters.

A version for iPad is said to be in the works.

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

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, and president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro chapter. Reach him by e-mail at, on Twitter at @DKSheets, or on Facebook and LinkedIn.


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