Answering the New York Times’ Twitter question

May 26th, 2009

Tuesday afternoon, someone previously unknown to the Twitter world, Jennifer Preston, jumped into the fray with this tweet: “Hi, I’m the NYT’s new social media editor. More details later. How should @nytimes be using Twitter?”

Quite an introduction not only as the new social media editor, but also to Twitter. Her question drew a swift response.

The Times, which is nearing 1 million followers of its main Twitter account as of this blog post’s publishing, is one of the last big media accounts to send out an RSS feed of stories on Twitter.

We at Old Media New Tricks offer congratulations to her on the new job, and an answer to her question:

Interact with your followers, and follow them. The Times account only follows Times employees right now and does not respond to followers. There’s a reason this is called “social” media. Yes, there are 1 million people who are following the account. That’s because of the Times‘ well-earned brand name recognition and excellence in reporting.

Want to get with the times, Times? Treat those 1 million followers to an interactive experience on Twitter. Answer their questions. Retweet their posts. If Ashton Kutcher can do it with even more followers, then the Times can do it, too.

Oh, and check out how the Colonel and the Statesman do it.

Once again, congratulations on the new gig, Jennifer. Let us know if you’d be up for a Q&A.

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Entry Filed under: Newspaper

  • Jacob Harris

    Funnily enough, following and retweets are simple concepts that can be fraught with difficulty for the New York Times. The problem is the perception of endorsement that comes with following users (presumably you don't follow people you hate) For instance, imagine a situation where the Times autofollows users that follow it. And so the Times autofollows the White House or some liberal PAC or such. Next thing you know, it's evidence that the Times is clearly advocating the liberal agenda!

    Alternatively, suppose followers are manually selected. Then the Times is being an elitist kingmaker. Given some of the spleen directed towards the Suggested User List, it's not too farfetched to imagine a similar reaction.

    This is not to say that either reaction is particularly reasonable (and that policies might change), but the Times always tries to avoid even mistaken perceptions of partiality, so these are the kinds of things to be considered.

  • Pingback: Value of social media, Twitter to journalists | Save the Media

  • Robert Quigley


    I understand what you're saying, and I agree that if the Times were to follow *only* special-interest groups of a certain persuasion, that case would be made. If it followed most people who followed it, I think the Times could stand behind what it's doing without worry.

    On a much larger point, even if the Times chose to not follow anyone back, I think it still should interact with its Twitter followers. Take the Ashton Kutcher example: He doesn't follow that many people, but he responds to people, which makes his presence on Twitter much more rich. I think that's where the Times could benefit. Someone there could be monitoring what is being sent on Twitter (via @replies to the Times), and responding with @replies back. That type of interactivity makes the Times, and anyone else, much more accessible. You wouldn't answer every question or respond to every person (it would be nearly impossible), but you could pick-and-choose. Listening and interactivity are central to what Twitter, and social media in general, are all about.

    I think it's good that the Times is asking for opinions. Thanks for listening to ours, and thanks for the comment!


  • AndrewNystromLAT

    A factual FTR: The leaked memo from @jonathanlandman posted here (unauthenticated) [via @NiemanLab] says:

    “Did you know that The New York Times is No. 2 on the Top 100 Twitterholics based on Followers? (Behind Ashton Kutcher but ahead of Ellen DeGeneres.)”

    Actually, @nytimes is #14 (with an enviable 935,824 followers, as of this comment, or 939,128 on itself) — perhaps he meant #2 in “New York City” behind Jimmy Fallon (@jimmyfallon)?

    In any case, I warmly welcomed @nyt_Jenpreston to the social realm via an as-yet unanswered @reply and wish her all the best. It's a social jungle out there.

    ~ @latimesnystrom /

  • Aron Pilhofer

    – Robert: I have not had a chance to talk to Jennifer yet, so take this with a major grain of salt. But if I were a betting man, I would bet that some level of interaction is a virtual certainty. Whether it comes through the main NYT feed (which to this point has not served that purpose) or some other channel remains to be seen. I've know Jennifer for a long, long time, and can tell you she is the ideal person (and personality) for this job. Give her a bit of time to get settled and figure things out, and you'll see great things.

    – AndrewNystromLAT: This was an internal memo, so I'm thinking it probably didn't go through a particularly rigorous editing process… But since you brought it up, I believe Jon was referring to our combined followership, not just the number of followers to our main twitter account.

    The Times, as you may or may not know, has several Twitter feeds. Notice The Moment there at roughly 550K followers, for example. There are a number of other feeds with relatively large numbers, which, combined, come to something between Ashton and Ellen.

    Would this methodology withstand peer review, or even our typical copy editing process? Probably not. But there you go anyway.

  • Ismael

    Great post! I have mixed feelings about the Times appointing someone to that position with very little experience with social media. It doesn't matter if that person has a great background and a wealth of experience. I feel like the skateboarder with the rep noticing the a new kid that comes on and everyone knows he's the poser.

  • Scooping the News

    Hi Gina,

    Here’s a video I thought your readers might enjoy. It mentions Twitter, paid content and how newspapers are doing in terms of print and online readership.

    ChasReply – Quote

    This comment was originally posted on Save the Media

  • tessalenore

    i enjoyed your presentation. question though how do i add the option of recording a video response/comment on my tumblr?

  • Daniel

    I think I just have to update the Disqus plug-in for this blog. :Grumble:

  • Daniel

    Still, most folks would be envious of that audience. It just will take a lot to manage it properly, I think.

  • Daniel

    Man, that's a Medill “F,” Aron.

    Joking. But you're right. When you combine the reach of the main feeds, the reporter feeds — hell — and Soraya, you have a captive audience. No doubt about that, dude.

  • bloggingmom67

    Interesting video. Thanks for sharing.

    – GinaReply – Quote

    This comment was originally posted on Save the Media

  • Jual Rumah

    Haha… it's funny, i feelt like I'll be asking that question too.

  • jamesmmiddaugh71

    You will feel too much american flag wallpaper cold empty hour in front of you.


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