WCBD, Charleston’s NBC affiliate, is launching a huge push into social media today by getting a majority of its news staff on Twitter. This is huge — I can’t say I’ve seen too many news agencies place a majority of their staff out into the wild amongst the Twitter-using public. Everybody from the anchors to the photogs is on and listening. Just today I was having a converation with morning anchor Brad Franko during the A-Rod (A-Roid?) press conference. WCBD’s had a presence on Twitter for a while, starting with producer Raymond Owens. Raymond was the first of the television journalists — and among the first of the journalists in Charleston in general — to make news a conversation over Twitter. That struck me. I was particularly pleased when chief meteorologist Rob Fowler joined up later, and gradually more and more folks at the channel started to tweet. I still think one of the marvels of Twitter is how it brings the people together with the media; with media listening in on what people are talking about over Twitter, it helps them serve our interests that much more effectively.
So, with that in mind, I’ve put together a few things that WCBD — and other news organizations tempted to take the social media plunge — should give a shot.
If you’ve been on Twitter anytime so far this year, you know how bad 2009’s been treating it. First a phishing scheme, then a completely unrelated hacking, and then MacWorld clogged the service’s tubes. Wednesday brought a respite, but Thursday the Failbots and Fail Whales returned early and often. When those weren’t popping up, users were greeted with timelines an hour or more into the past, making Twitter largely unusable. To make matters worse, today’s starting with more of the same. (I blew off some steam about this Wednesday night on Serious Business, and if their problems continue, Twitter will get another tongue-lashing next week. The Twitters are serious business.)
A lot of people are new to Twitter since its epic meltdown this summer, so they may not know that there are a couple other places you might be able to find your Twitter friends while Twitter’s down — and, for that matter, even while it’s up, as each service brings a set of unique and valuable qualities to the table that make them worth sticking around.
When I first really started paying attention to Twitter in late November 2007, I succinctly lamented the lack of a Facebook connector. Twitter was, after all, a status tool, and it would only make sense that I could keep the two in sync. Facebook Mobile was not yet the most developed thing on the planet at that time, and I thought it would be nifty to send a service a text message to keep my Facebook friends up to date.
Then a funny thing happened; I started using Twitter as a microblog, with more frequent updates than pithy status messages on Facebook. I also thought the connector’s “is twittering” — a limitation of Facebook status then was that it was required to start with the word “is” — was kind of lame as well. So, I decided to stop synchronizing Facebook status with Twitter status and let the two run their course.
However, more and more Facebook friends started populating their Facebook status with their tweets, even though they may send many, many tweets a day (as I do). I got to thinking about perhaps reuniting the two; after all, I still have maybe 10% of my friends using Twitter, which means a majority of my friends are missing out on my wit. ;) I’d been tossing this idea around for a few weeks when the other day I ran across this provocatively titled Inquistr article by Duncan Riley. In the article, Riley notes that his response rate on Facebook has been more substantial than he ever thought possible. That was it; the one that pushed me over the edge, in essence.
So, Monday, the experiment resumed: I re-linked my Twitter and Facebook statuses. And the response? I’ve seen some decent response rates. But the mess? Oh, the mess. It speaks for itself:
First, that’s a lot of status updates. In my deliberation of whether to relink, I’ve said that Facebook is a “slower” service, as it’s not intended to be something that one would run in the background as a real-time application (though the function is available). It’s something people check and then generally head away from. Services like Twitter or FriendFeed, though, are predicated on the idea of near-real-time interaction. Thus, bombarding Facebook with Twitter updates — generally, any update not intended as a reply to another Twitter user is published in the News Feed — doesn’t really fit with how I perceive the service. Additionally, “Jared I can’t help but wonder…” does NOT make grammatical sense. Facebook’s status system intends to maintain the integrity of a complete sentence in its updates, and doing less really looks funny. (Thus, as crazy as it sounds, Plurk’s structured status updates make far more sense for synchronizing to Facebook.) Certainly, I could start my Twitter status updates as incomplete sentences, but that’s not how I construct messages on that service. This is one of those “irreconcilable differences” that my writer self is struggling with. Finally, people not used to the noise could be tempted to un-friend me (much as I’ve sustained many unfollows on Twitter over the last year because of my verbose nature).
However, I can’t argue that there’s been results. Some tweets have touched off some neat conversation, and the goal of getting those tweets out to those people who may never read them did indeed work. Indeed, it’s a double-edged sword.
In a perfect world, Twitter’s Facebook app would give me the option to insert tweets into the News Feed on its own without changing my Facebook status. I do want Facebook people, after all, to have easy access to my Twitter updates as they’re a huge part of my online presence. In lieu of Twitter-specific News Feed items, I’d like to at least free the box holding my Twitter status from the Boxes tab and place it prominently on my Wall tab. Unfortunately for months I’ve gotten this failure message when I’ve tried to do that (and yes, I have reported it). This has to be fixed. I am very judicious about what displays on my Wall tab, and Twitter status I consider too important of an item to be confined to a Boxes tab that nobody but the most bored will click.
In the end, I’ve decided to once again separate Twitter and Facebook. Links to my Twitter profile are pervasive throughout my profile if they want to get at it. My Twitter timeline is also available, with comments and “likes,” on my FriendFeed tab. The clutter and spamminess of the whole thing just did not sit well with me and how I use the service, and thus it’s best to keep this separated for at least a while longer, in my mind. Here’s hoping that some of the alternatives I’ve laid out can come to fruition, as I feel very uneasy keeping these services in silos. Of course, these are purely my perceptions. Some of you out there won’t care about grammatical correctness or News Feed overload. What’s been your experience? Why have you — or have you not — linked your Twitter to Facebook?
Update:Andra Watkins does a great job explaining the benefits of synchronizing status. She makes some great points, especially when noting that people can, in fact, turn down noise from specific folks in the News Feed. (I forgot about this feature, as I generally like to have everything there.)
Tonight a few of the Lowcountry bloggers got together at Coco’s Cafe in Mt. Pleasant for an event set up by Lyn Mettler to kind of introduce the restaurant to the bloggers and generate some buzz. The restaurant was fantastic; I enjoyed the food a great deal (including the salmon — and I’m historically not a seafood guy), and the place was really charming and enjoyable. I highly recommend it.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. You can see it, too. Between Ian and myself, we took many pictures and posted them on Brightkite, a location-based social network. At first glance, Brightkite screams “stalker tool,” and I can see why it’s taken that way — after all, the premise of the site is that you post your exact location (there are privacy tools available so you can determine who can see your most detailed position). However, used in a way that it was used tonight, it also is the ultimate marketing tool.
The beauty of Brightkite is that you can take pictures and write notes and then associate them with a location — effectively, geotagging. Take a look at the Brightkite page for Coco’s. You’ll see several photos of Coco’s there. See, I can tell you all about the ambiance of the restaurant and the food and stuff, but as they say, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Plus, since the pictures are associated with the entry for Coco’s in Brightkite, anybody else that checks in there or looks into it even before going there can see what it’s like. The icing on the cake: Since my Brightkite photos and notes are crossposted to Twitter, people who follow me can see the photos as they’re posted, complete with the location information. That’s pretty cool. Additionally, if people elect to post their location updates (called checkins in Brightkite lingo) to Twitter with some level of detail, that’s instant advertising. There are many, many other social aspects to Brightkite that escape the scope of this post, too.
Are you using Brightkite? Add me — maybe we can check in at Coco’s.
Tonight a bunch of people and I learned, once again, the power of the Internet. A storm became unexpectedly severe and plowed its way through Dorchester and Berkeley counties this evening. I went live on a Charleston weather-themed Ustream channel with the SuperDeeDooperDoppler and, for over two hours, was able to give a rundown of what the storm was doing at a particular time and was able to get people to safety when the storm was at its worst, whether it was spewing 60+ MPH gusts in downtown Summerville or chucking golf-ball size hail in Ridgeville. I was able to get feedback in real time in the chat room that Ustream supplied, and that part rocked most of all. One-way weather broadcasts from television don’t give anybody that kind of luxury at all, especially when the storm knocks television out. People were able to relay their reports in real-time and that was excellent. In a way, I’m hoping it stays clear for a bit — two hours of wall-to-wall is probably enough after a long day at work. :) It just felt good to be able to help people.
Imagine what I would have done with Ustream during Ernesto in August 2006, when I live-blogged for three days every advisory that came down with predictions and such. A part of me almost can’t wait for another storm now!
This summer I’m looking to significantly expand my weather outlet, to the point where it will likely be spun off from this site under its own domain. One of the pieces of this is somewhat in play now as I’ve created a Charleston Weather Twitter account to relay conditions, forecasts, and advisories. I wouldn’t rely on it for timeliness right now, though — it’s using Twitterfeed to shoot the information through, so there is a giant delay between checking feeds. I still need to write a proper bot for it, which I’m hoping to tackle this month. The Ustream channel is another piece of the puzzle. I plan to offer up some sort of rotating feature with radar and other things once I can find a box to dedicate to it. I will also use the Ustream channel for periodic weather reports as well as coverage during severe weather situations.
Sadly, the most obvious piece of the puzzle, my weather station, won’t be around much longer. I’m moving in a few weeks, which will force me to end my station downtown after two fantastic years. I’m not sure if I will bring it up yet in my new location (likely to be west of the Ashley), so my backyard conditions may come to an end. However, there are other stations out there, and I’m not overly concerned with taking mine down knowing that others will be able to spring up in my place.
I wanted to write more about my setup here, but I’m getting pretty tired; that will be for a later post.
I’m not sure what I’m on to here, but I can’t help but think it’s a good thing that will enhance weather awareness and, more importantly, explore how the social media space can be used to disseminate important information in an interactive manner.