Posts filed under 'New Tricks'

New Tricks: Create a persona for your online news brand

The social media space can be tough to navigate at times. You’ll probably be called out at one point or another — assuming you’re doing your job right — in public.

This is why before you put your news organization out there, it’s good to have a game plan. It’s not only enough to figure out who will be the front man for your newspaper, Web site or broadcast site in social media, you must first figure out:

- Voice
- Content
- How to interact
- Touch points across your organization


Determining one’s editorial voice is key. Whether your tone on the air or in print can be playful or serious, it’s a one-way broadcast. An organization’s official voice is usually that: official. In the social media space, however, you’ll be having conversations with folks, so having a more relaxed, conversational tone is important.

One thing that you may want to think about doing is creating a persona. Bill Adee and I did it for our friend, Colonel Tribune, and it helped tremendously.

The biggest question you should ask yourself: If your news organization were a person, who would it be? What kind of food would it eat? What kind of music would it listen to? Where would it live? What kinds of stories are most relevant?


Basically, you need to figure out what, when and how your audience likes its content. For instance, if you’re running a Twitter profile for a news broadcaster in Los Angeles, perhaps you set up a separate feed for local traffic alerts. If you run a national site about D.C. politics, you won’t give your followers weather updates. Right?

Basically, instead of providing news, you want to be as helpful as you can be. Instead of thinking of a story in terms of this:

“Big crash on expressway x. Expect delays.”

Think of it like this:

“There’s a crash on expressway x. Here are some alternate routes.”

The emphasis isn’t the news, per se. 99% of social media is figuring out a way to help someone else. This is a good way to do it.

It’s as simple as that, but once you establish yourself in one — or several — areas, feel free to stretch yourself a bit. Post a link from elsewhere on the Web. Re-Tweet some folks. Do something to keep your friends coming back for more.

How to interact

Previously, I said your editorial voice must be informal. Your interactions must be as well. But your role may be more than just editorial. Do you:

- Plan to post links to your content? Obviously.
- Plan on posting links to outside content? Perhaps.
- Have a plan if someone asks you a question? You should.
- Have a plan for when someone gives you a suggestion? This leads me to…

Touch points across your organization

This is a bit of an aside, but think of this scenario: Say someone gives you a hot news tip via Facebook. Who do you give it to? A reporter? An editor? Do you check it out yourself?

This is something to have on paper before you get started in the social space. It’s always good to have contacts throughout your organization, just in case something inspires you. Want to create a promo for your Facebook page? Have someone in your marketing or creative services department at your disposal. Got a news tip? Have an editor you can work with. Has someone suggested a site improvement? You should know someone in the technology department.

It’s important to have something concrete to refer to as you delve into the social media space. Whether you’re a day in, a week in or six months down the road, just having something on paper will help you evaluate your progress.

5 comments June 22nd, 2009

New Tricks: Use to discover local Twitter trends is a great way of discovering local Twitter trends. Here’s how to use it:

1. Go to the site and click on your city. (To add a new city, suggest it on the site’s feedback form.)

2. You can either click on a specific local Twitter trend from the front page, or you can click through to the home page for your city. (Here are the pages for Chicago and Austin.)

3. Not only can you see the trends, but you can click through to the person who posted the Tweet. In the small amount of time I’ve used it, I’ve found a dozen new people to follow, all in my area, who I didn’t know before. seems to be another great weapon to add to your Twitter arsenal. (Twarsenal?)


3 comments May 19th, 2009

New tricks: Build community around breaking news

On Old Media, New Tricks, we’ve helped you grow the digital connection with your audience through niche news sites, closely moderated comment boards, Twitter and other tools out there.

But once you get your audience, what can you do with them? Here are a couple of ideas:

1. If you get a tip as a result of your social media efforts, acknowledge your audience in the stories themselves. If you say you got a tip via Twitter, link to that person’s profile. You should not relinquish any opportunity to say “thank you.”

2. Create a forum for people to answer each other’s questions about a breaking news item. For instance, if there’s a large teacher’s strike, set up a forum for teachers to not only talk with each other, but with students and parents as well.

Forums also:

- Create a place, possibly, for your reporters to interact with potential sources
- Create a place for your audience to ask your reporters questions. Sometimes, these questions and/or tips could turn into stories. Of course, you thank the audience member for the idea or question that turned into a story.
- Create a place for your audience to answer each other’s questions.
- If the conversation is good, you’ll find that you may get a few new registered users as a direct result of your forums.

3. After the story runs its cycle, it could be worth reaching out to your followers — especially if the story was local — and ask for input. Ask them:

- Did they like your coverage?
- What did your readers find most useful?
- How can you improve?

Remember, as my friend Jason Falls says, your participation will be a key component in making your social media efforts successful.

At this time, if you find you’re in the good graces of your followers, it could be a good time to ask them to register for your site, sign up for your e-newsletters, text alerts and the like. Bring them into your fold, and you may find it’s fairly easy to make a buck or two along the way. Tell them that their involvement not only helps you make a case for your continued presence on the social Web, but it in fact helps fund your future social media projects.

Why? Because you’ll find it just may.

Do you have any ideas on how to build community around breaking news? Post them as comments, and we’ll shoot them down — kidding — or we may include them in future posts. We’ll probably have a couple of more posts about this particular topic.

3 comments May 12th, 2009

New tricks: Letting the Twitter stream flow

Guest entry by Christian McDonald, technical solutions manager for the Austin American-Statesman

Twitter’s search engine kicks. There was a collective cheer in the Twittersphere when Summize was brought into the Twitter family. It’s the fabric for hashtags and any other trend unfolding in our lives. Capturing such phenomena on a news web site can be a powerful way to show how news unfolds.

At the Austin American-Statesman, we’ve had a couple of occasions to use the jQuery plugin Juitter to pull Twitter search results onto our sites, most recently for our Swine Flu news aggregation site. It is an easy and quick way for a developer to display the power of a Twitter search in real time.

While Juitter isn’t especially hard to get going, it does require a developer’s access to the site you are running on. You have to be able to upload javascript files, and call them into the published html pages where you are displaying the results.

Juitter developer Rodrigo Fante has decent enough instructions on how to use Juitter on his site, but I did make some modifications for one project to show a Tweet’s @username and icon together, and to remove the superfulous “Read it on Twitter” link. You can see an example here, and download the system.js and jquery.juitter.js files that power have the changes.

(And big thanks to @stephromanski for pointing us to Juitter for a SXSW project, and to @andynguyen for implementing on our site.)

Christian McDonald shares news developer insights on

10 comments April 30th, 2009

Building a niche swine flu site with mainstream power

As it became clear over the weekend that the swine flu was becoming a major national and international story, Statesman VP for Internet Tim Lott went hunting for domain names. The Statesman has been wanting to try to build a nimble niche aggregation site for a while as an experiment, and the swine flu seemed like a good topic for a test.

On Monday, Lott instructed one of our developers to build a niche site using an CMS outside of the main newspaper’s site. By lunchtime Tuesday, our swine flu information site was live.

It’s a full aggregation site, with a national and international focus. Everything links off the site except for the “About” page and a page for a Google mashup.

Aggregation is hand-picked by an editor (me), who is scouring the Web for interesting flu-related stories from trusted sources. Our hook is that you can trust what I’m choosing to be reliable.

We also added several resource links and a Twitter stream from Juitter.

We built this in a separate CMS for a few reasons:

1. We wanted to build this quickly. Obviously, if we waited too long, we’d miss the opportunity.

2. The CMS we used for the niche site (WordPress) is nimble and flexible. Our newspaper’s site is not as flexible.

3. We wanted it to be divorced from our site as much as possible. It’s from the Statesman, but we don’t want it to be the Statesman.

This is an experiment, but it’s fun, challenging and, hopefully, useful for readers.

What do you think?

29 comments April 29th, 2009

New Tricks: Gain more Twitter followers for your news organization

You’ve been rolling on Twitter for a little while — maybe thanks to our recent posts, even — but now you’re starting to get into it a bit more.

You may be doing all of the right things on Twitter: talking to other people, re-Tweeting folks, posting links to interesting Web sites and being helpful in general, but you may want to boost your visibility. (If anything, it may earn you a bit of breathing room with your bosses, who wonder why the hell you’re spending your time on Twitter.)

To do that, you’ll need to find some more people to follow. You’ll want to start by checking out these sites:

1. BackTweets: I recently wrote about BackTweets. It’s a site that helps you track people who post a link to your story on Twitter. Follow folks who link to you, your competition and, if you’re a local news organization, TV and radio stations, along with local blogs. If someone links to a story from your site, thank them.

2. LocalTweeps: LocalTweeps is relatively new, but it helps you find all sorts of local folks. Think of it as the “Twitter White Pages.”

3. Advanced Twitter Search: Since the main metric for local news organizations should be local unique visits, an advanced search is a great way to find folks in your neck of the woods. Need people within 10 miles of 60614? No problem. Simple.

That sounds like a lot, so here are the people you definitely want to follow:

- People who mention your news organization by name. This is self-explanatory, and you’ll be able to help troubleshoot for folks who, for example, are having problems with their subscription.
- People who re-Tweet you. This is a no-brainer. When the Chicago Tribune announced its redesign, the story got carried all around the Twittersphere:


To be honest, @ColonelTribune already followed most of the people who were mentioning the Tribune, but it never hurts to double-check.

- People who mention local issues and breaking news. In Chicago, for instance, it would behoove Colonel Tribune or @SunTimes to follow people who mention “Roland Burris” or “Rod Blagojevich.” If someone mentions a local issue, give them a follow. If they don’t follow back, you can always unfollow them.

- People who mention local landmarks. Highways, airports and restaurants are things that people love to Tweet about. And if they’re Tweeting from one of these places, chances are they’re bored. Give them a follow. You have nothing to lose.

- Twitter super-users, of course. For a general list of power users, try Twitterholic and Twitter Grader. (Twitter Grader also has a great local search feature; here’s the ranking for Chicago.)

- People who mention your competition. For instance, if I were to run a Twitter page for the New York Daily News, I would follow people who mention:

- The New York Times
- The New York Post
- Newsday
- Local magazines, like New York and The New Yorker
- Gothamist and a couple of other blogs
- Broadcast television and radio Twitter feeds

But there are a few things to consider before you start following lots of folks:

1. Is your profile completely filled out? If you don’t have a photo and profile description
2. Do you have a fairly solid following? If I get a random follow from a news organization that has 20 followers, guess what – I’m not following them back.
3. Do you look like a spammer? If you’re following 1,000 people but only have 100 followers, you look like a spammer. It looks like you’re on Twitter just to gain followers. And if you are, I’m not following you. A good ration is about 3:2, meaning for every three people who follow you, you should follow two back.

Here are some other things you can do to get more followers:

- Tweet content that’s relevant to your audience. This is probably the single most important thing you can do, and it’s testable. You can track the number of clicks on your URLs if you use a service like (There are others out there, but I like this one.)

- Respond to all questions, suggestions and comments. Self-explanatory.

- Evangelize Twitter. Do you know folks who aren’t already on Twitter? Tell them about it and get them to follow you.

- Re-Tweet popular Twitter users. If something Robert Scoble says is relevant to your audience, it couldn’t hurt to re-Tweet it. If anything, it may get that person to notice you.

- Pick a good time to Tweet. On Problogger, Darren Rowse suggests you Tweet during peak hours. That’s OK, but if your followers are following many other people, they may not see your messages. Use the analytics tools at your disposal to see when you get the most clicks and Twitter search to see when you get the most responses.

- Promote your efforts. It couldn’t hurt to have a contest every once in a while. People like swag. You probably have an extra t-shirt or mug around the office somewhere. Figure out a contest and make it happen.

Two final notes: Don’t necessarily choose not to follow someone based on the number of followers/Tweets they have. If you find someone’s profile, and they just joined Twitter, you have a great opportunity to bring them into your digital fold. And if you have something important to say, you may become that person’s best friend…on Twitter at least.

Also, this post may be about how to gain Twitter followers, but Twitter — and social media — is not about numbers. (To your bosses, it may be, but you’ve got to manage their expectations.) You’re much better off having 50 followers, all of whom are highly engaged, than several hundred thousand users, 90 percent of whom you ignore. Being successful in the social media space depend on how useful and personal you are.


If I didn’t convince you, try reading these other posts:

Dosh Dosh – ‘How to Get More Twitter Followers: Some Methods That Work’
Mack Collier, Search Engine Guide – ‘How Do You Get More Followers On Twitter?’


Also, I would like to thank Aaron Brazell, Whet Moser, Mark Hopkins and Rahsheen Porter for inspiring me to tweak this post’s intro a bit. This post is designed for people who already use Twitter the right way, but I did not make that clear at first. Thanks, guys.

48 comments April 15th, 2009

New Tricks: Rules of engagement: How journalists can – and should – respond to comments

Traveling to different newsrooms is a big part of my job, and no two newsrooms are completely alike.

I’m an evangelist not just for social media tools, but getting newsrooms and news organizations to interact with readers at a very basic level. Some folks — many of whom are full-time bloggers — are naturally good at it, but when it comes to reporters, many don’t even want to engage readers on the “Comments” section of their stories.

This post will help guide you through this very act. There are a few things to remember, however:

1. Responding to comments is part of your job. Period.

2. Do not judge your readership based on a few bad apples. If you’re a reporter, don’t give up on your digital audience after a couple of crap comments. They’re probably anonymous, anyway.

3. There is no such thing as a one-comment story. If there’s one comment, there are two: the first comment and your response. Once you reach five comments or so, you don’t need to respond to everyone, but it’s good to continue to be a part of the conversation.

Here’s when you absolutely must respond to a reader:

- When a reader has a question about your story. Sometimes, through no fault of anyone’s, there are details that are edited out or just not addressed at all. If a reporter can provide an extra bit of information, it’s incumbent upon them to do it. Hell, there’s nothing wrong with leaving a reader happy.

- If someone bashes you. Sometimes comment boards can spiral out of control, especially when a reader bashes you, but if you respond to an angry reader, it cuts them off at the knees and may ultimately win them over. If the commenter responds, and you have their e-mail address, answer them privately.

- When you feel you have to keep your conversation and comment strings on point. If your comment board allows for threaded comments, this may be a non-issue; however, sometimes the conversation just takes an unexpected turn. Don’t be afraid to jump in and keep folks on track.

Sometimes the conversation can just spiral out of control. Here’s when I think it’s OK to ban a commenter:

- When someone makes a racist, sexist or homophobic comment.

- When one of your readers bashes another. Keep folks polite, and they’ll keep coming back.

It may be good to sit down with your site producers and editors to create a clear set of rules — Terms of Service, if you will — for your site. This way, if you ban someone, they’ll know exactly why. Just don’t go ban-happy.

Steward the conversation, and acknowledge your good readers/commenters. If you do, you have a real chance of building community around your blog or beat.

When do you think it’s OK — and not OK — to respond to comments? What’s your rule of thumb?

24 comments April 6th, 2009

New Tricks: Covering a storm with social media

If you pay attention to your news organization’s Web site numbers, you know that very few things are as popular with your audience than a severe weather event. It doesn’t have to be a hurricane to draw a lot of interest – sometimes just a good thunderstorm can do the trick.

To fully capture that active Web audience during a weather event, you can use social media tools to help report the story. Your news staff can’t be everywhere, but your readers can help.

Here are some things you can do:

1. Start a Twitter weather feed. At the Statesman, we have one that automatically posts the temperature and conditions every six hours (thanks to an RSS feed). During a storm event, an editor can hop on there and start reporting what he or she knows – and ask for reader pictures and reports, through @replies and direct messages. Retweet the good Twitpics and reports from your followers. Even better: use the readers’ Twitpics on your home page. has posted reader photos from Twitter in the centerpiece of the home page several times.

Be sure to get permission and credit (we say “@robquig via Twitter”). If you have reporters using Twitter out in the field during the storm, be sure to retweet their reports or at least let your followers know they’re there and Tweeting. Don’t do that and ignore the readers, though. Retweeting readers is one of the best ways to easily get user-generated content.

2. Build a Google mashup to give readers a way to report conditions in their area. Here’s the one we built a while back that we use for just about any newsworthy weather event. It worked great during a recent hail storm. They’re relatively simple to build (we use Caspio), and people enjoy using it.

3. Have a way for people to share their videos. A few years ago, this would not draw much interest. Now that most digital cameras have pretty good video capabilities, you’re much more likely to get some usable reader videos. If your video player allows for reader uploads, that’s great. Otherwise, have them update to YouTube or Vimeo and e-mail you when they’re uploaded with a link. You can then embed their videos in a blog or on your page.

4. Promote your efforts. If you have a TV station or partner, mention the social media components during that wall-to-wall weather coverage. Tell people how to contribute with reports on Twitter and the mashup. If you have a newspaper or newspaper partner, tease heavily to the Google Mashup in the next day’s paper (include an image of the map with the pins all over it, if possible).

Take advantage of all the tools you have your disposal … and stay dry!

10 comments March 31st, 2009

Austin newspaper honors Texas’ social media elite during SXSW

Sunday night, as South by Southwest Interactive hit its stride, the Austin American-Statesman honored the top social media users in Texas.

I came up with this idea as a way to show off all the good work that Texans are doing, and to strengthen the newspaper’s relationship with the community. The Statesman, mainly through Twitter, has built a good reputation in the social media community.

We asked for nominations from the public (through Twitter), which brought in 125 nominees. The 25 winners were chosen by me, @omarg and @broylesa.

Be sure to check out the list of winners and their social media efforts. There’s no question that there are some real social media rock stars in Texas.

The awards show, which was at the new Ballet Austin building in downtown Austin, included a cocktail party with a pianist (so we could hear each other talk) and was catered & sponsored by Opal Divine’s restaurant and Sweet Leaf Tea. We then moved into the ballet’s performance area where we had an auditorium and stage to hand out trophies and say a little about each winner.

We named an overall winner during Sunday’s event. The big winner is Michelle Greer, who is a tireless proponent of using social media for social good.

Check out Michelle’s story here (which was centerpiece of both and the Life & Arts print edition today).

We also had two photographers and a digital journalist there to shoot video.

Check out the photos, and the video:

About 140 people attended the party, and everyone seemed to have a great time. The positive feedback from the party attendees was amazing. You can see the attendees’ Twitter stream here.

“Old” media can learn a few new tricks …

2 comments March 16th, 2009

New Tricks: Why you should use StumbleUpon to build a following

Building your persona on social bookmarking sites is a great way to help your news organization. StumbleUpon is one of these sites.

StumbleUpon icon

Here’s why StumbleUpon is a good tool to use:

1. Good traffic. StumbleUpon has the potential to send loads of traffic to your site. The StumbleUpon experience is quite different from that of Digg, however, and users pick categories for sites they wish to Stumble.

2. Ability to become a thought leader in your field. If you’re a tech reporter, being on StumbleUpon can be a good way to introduce yourself to people who enjoy reading tech-related stories. If you read a piece on Engadget or Gizmodo about a new gadget, Stumbling it — especially if you discover it on StumbleUpon — can get you some instant street cred, and build your reputation.

3. Ability to create a following for your content. It’s not good to self-submit too often, but if you have a good reputation, when folks see that you’ve written something, they’re probably:

- more likely to read it
- more likely to share it
- more likely to give you suggestions for future content

Once you get started on there, you may want to write a blog post/Tweet that you’re on StumbleUpon, and that people can follow you there. If you evangelize the service with your readership, they’re more likely to pass the word along to their friends.

Are you on StumbleUpon? I know I am. You can find my profile here.

4 comments January 27th, 2009

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