New Tricks: Break the Twitterfeed habit

December 9th, 2008

Once you decide to put your organization on Twitter, the temptation is great to turn on Twitterfeed, which automatically puts RSS feeds into Twitter, and forget it. It’s like magic! You just have to come up with the idea of using Twitter and Twitterfeed does the rest!

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy — if you want Twitter to be useful for your organization.

Twitterfeed is a clever program. It pulls entries from RSS and posts them on Twitter with headlines or without, with links or without. You can tell it to send 1 entry every hour, 1 a day or as many as 5 every half hour.

Here’s the problem: People generally do NOT want to follow an RSS feed on Twitter, especially from a news organization. Twitter is a conversational tool. It is a personal tool. If you want to read an RSS feed, you can use Google Reader. If you want people to follow your newsroom’s account, put a person on it. A real person.

More news organizations are figuring out what Twitter is about, and are realizing that feeding an RSS feed to Twitter doesn’t work. Check out @dallas_news, @coloneltribune, @statesman, @phillyinquirer and @kxan_news for examples of what an account is like with a human voice behind them. Compare to @startribune (which didn’t use Twitterfeed, but was an RSS feed until it stopped updating two months ago).

It’s nice to see newspapers figuring out the right way to use Twitter.

The Indianapolis Star had Twitterfeed on full blast until Oct. 30, when it sent out this Tweet:

Since then, the Indy Star has been sharing links with a human touch. It makes all the difference. Twitter is free. All you’re spending by doing it the right way is work hours. Do it — you’ll like the results.

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

Entry Filed under: New Tricks,Twitter

  • JStolarcyk

    Yay! Excellent advice, guys. I hope some outlets start taking it to heart.

  • dan360man


  • Brandon

    The point of multiple twitterfeeds or rss feeds of any kind, displayed via widgets on your publications site(s), is that people can get those widgets and embed them in their site or myspace page etc. That's the benefit. News should be portable and I should get it when where how I want it. The widgetizing of the web is another attempt to make this easy.
    People generally do NOT want to follow an RSS feed on Twitter, especially from a news organization.
    who says? I might want rss updates via SMS. Why not? I don't want spam, but if a big story breaks, why not?
    Lets find a way to exploit the tech and generate revenue. Someone sponsors the widgets. And Journalists can keep writing. Which is the goal…
    I like your blog, and I'm not picking a fight, just voicing my opinion. Best,

  • Robert Quigley

    We're not against RSS feeds in general, we just don't think it's the proper use for Twitter. Consider that the Chicago Tribune's RSS Twitter feed (@chicagotribune) and the Statesman's RSS Twitter feed (@aastop) don't have nearly the followers of Colonel Tribune and @statesman. Those are just our examples. RSS-fed newspaper sites get far fewer page views than well-done human-fed Twitter accounts. The only exceptions are huge entities like the New York Times, which uses RSS but has a lot of followers because they're, well, the New York Times.

    People like Twitter being used as a two-way tool, whether it's your personal feed or a business or a media company.

    No problem disagreeing with us. You're not the only one with that opinion. We're just offering up what we've seen work.

  • Julie

    I saw your post on Twitter and personally, I like the mix of RSS type feeds and personal posts. I don't think it seems right to have a hard and fast rule about what Twitter is or isn't for. It seems to me that it's for whatever we use it for.

  • Robert Quigley

    You're right – there are no hard-and-fast rules. Just in our experience, turning off RSS has been more successful for media outlets. We're offering our best advice based on our experience, not necessarily the law ;)

  • Patrick LaForge

    Here's my take. As I mentioned in my tweets, I use my personal Twitter account to talk to real people and to follow RSS feeds of selected news organizations and blogs. It is handy to have them all in one place.

    Twitter is too young for its users to start making up rules on how it should be used. Nobody knows until different approaches are tried. Let the market decide. CNN has about 14,000 followers for its feed. Someone gets value from that. Nobody's making them follow. Likewise, NYT has a variety of feeds for its sections and blogs that people follow, or don't. There are also many individuals who work there who have personal Twitter accounts (like me) who dive into the social interaction.

    What I prefer is truth in labeling. If you are an individual on Twitter, use an individual's name or handle, and we can chat. Don't call yourself “IndyStar” or “MediaTricks.” I expect an institutional name like that to be an RSS feed with only occasional human updates, and I don't really want it pestering me for feedback or crowdsourcing or sharing the views of an unnamed person who is paid to “keep it real” under the outlet's name.

    Twitter is still a very small audience, not worth a lot of staffing resources for a large media organizaiton. It is also a flawed tool. No threading, poor archiving, inadequate search. I am posting on your blog because 140 characters was simply too limiting and bound to get lost in the flood of Tweets, not from RSS feeds, which are predictable, but from the umpteenth individual telling me what's for dinner tonight. (Don't get me wrong, I do get a kick out of that stuff.)

  • Robert Quigley

    Thanks, Patrick, for the comment.
    I our defense of @mediatricks, our real names are listed in the bio. There's no hiding our identities.
    We have found Twitter to be worth staffing, despite its flaws. It doesn't take that much to staff, and the feedback we've received is overwhelmingly positive.
    You're right – the market can decide. I personally unfollowed @NYTimes (despite loving the paper) because it's an RSS feed, which I get from Google Reader. People can unfollow our account because they WANT an RSS feed. It's just our experience that people prefer a human-staffed account, therefore it's our advice. The NYT, WSJ, CNN are exceptions because they're mammoth national outlets.
    You may call social interaction “pestering,” but our followers (of @statesman and @ColonelTribune) haven't complained. Check out some the feedback from @statesman's followers. It's as much about brand-building (or more) than it is about getting people to click our links.
    Twitter is still a small audience, but it is a social media tool. I don't think anyone doubts that. If your paper is going to use social media (Twitter or elsewhere), our advice (just our advice, not a rule) is to use it for *social* media.

  • Patrick LaForge

    See, but I don't think Twitter is all that social. Even the individuals on it are broadcasting their likes/dislikes, links, blog posts, what they had for dinner. There's a little back and forth but not a lot of tolerance for an ongoing conversation. It's not that social. There are big names on Twitter who are definitely humans posting, but they only follow a few people and have very little social interaction. The tool itself creates this asynchronous community, with very little to encourage more than passing interaction. It's not THAT social.

  • Robert Quigley

    It is what you want it to be. We happen to get quite a bit of useful social interaction out of it (beyond what you're eating). It has its limitations, but it shouldn't be dismissed because of them.

  • Patrick LaForge

    Individuals within a news organization can benefit. I really don't see any value in WKRP pretending to Twitter like a live person. Because the examples you've sent me just look like a slightly more sophisticated version of a feed, maintained by a low level producer or assistant. It would be better for the on-air personalities and reporters to all get their own Twitter accounts and be themselves. And keep a feed out there, why not. That's my advice, based on my experience.

  • Robert Quigley

    Good enough. Thanks for the debate.

  • JoeRuiz

    I can honestly see both sides to this argument. I do especially like offering widgets with RSS feeds (even Twitter-based), and while it does provide a service, I believe Twitter is still inherently conversation-based.

    I'm not going to say some people want the interaction or crowdsourcing, but I've found more people receptive to those ideas than not. Working at a local TV station Website in a town not so tech-savvy, I've found our discussions with our followers has been beneficial. I would say between the three media orgs using Twitter, there's probably about 400 uniques following all three [@mysa, @woaitv and @ksatnews (my site's)]. @woaitv is primarily a feed with little unique conversation built-in while the other two are solely users manning the tweets. On ours, our two tweeters are identified in the bio by our personal accounts (which is my names or an easy variance of my executive producer).

    Sure, @CNN has its value and its 14,000 followers get a good use from it, but it's a worldwide media organization. I'm never going to have 14,000 followers @ksatnews, but the diehards that do follow us provide information when we need it. I can tweet about a fire on the other side of the county and get some feedback. I don't beg them to help, they choose to do so, and the personal relationship with our readers is why I'm using Twitter. I need, and will ultimately benefit, from connecting in another way than we do already.

    I especially like Brandon's thought about offering the information for how the reader wishes to use it, but I believe using Twitter for conversation, and not solely offering a RSS Twitterfeed (especially for your smaller outfits) is more beneficial when it comes to keeping your audience tied to your product.

    It's slowly starting to work for us, and I know it will reflect in my site's numbers even more once we start promoting our Twitter presence on our site (late this week or early next).

    Good discussion, though. That benefits us all.

  • JoeRuiz

    We've got about 15 different personal accounts for our staffers (anchor, reporters, photogs, editor, producers, Web staff), but it also depends on them using Twitter (again, my point earlier) for conversation.

    I like Twitter for the conversation it can generate, others not so much. I don't care if it is my lead anchor tweeting. I just don't care what they had for dinner (all the time with no discussion).

  • Mark Hamilton

    I use Twitterfeed for our college newspaper, but it's only a matter of a headline or two every couple of days.The problem with repeatedly see with the “human touch” is a number of reporters and editors who are basically replicating an RSS feed. “Hey. come and see this neat thing I just did.” They still see it as promotional, rather than conversational.

  • JoeRuiz

    Oh, no doubt that's still a problem with using it for promotional rather than conversational, but there's nothing too wrong with that. Sure, promo your good stuff. I wouldn't promo everything, but that's just me.

    I would suggest using it to find stories/videos/etc. of interest to your student body and other readers and tweet that, too.

    Working at a TV station, I see a few of our tweeters promoting their story on the next show. Well, that's all fine and good, but the only people following them so far are other station employees and few others. They already know what you're working on or are already set to tune in or read the accompanying story/video on the Website.

    I guess my point is, don't just promote, but engage as well.

  • Jane Kovacs

    Great discussion. I think organizations that simply feed Twitter are missing the entire “social” aspect of social media. I love @statesman BECAUSE of the human touch. I know there is a person just as frustrated with the traffic or heartsick about hurricane Ike damage. And the interaction is also a big pull. Organizations that don't know how to take advantage of the power of interactive, feedback will ultimately fail to bridge the gap between static print and dynamic social media.

    Great discussion.

  • Jim

    We're still tinkering with Twitter. I reserve my personal account @jimware to discuss issues like this with others in the field or to chat with people in the community about non-news issues. What I've found is those community chats frequently lead to story ideas, which is cool. We use @CaptainStarNews as the “voice” of the newspaper, telling readers about breaking news, traffic jams, etc., and pointing them to hot stories. We also seek interaction there, as well as at our @starnewsonline account. We have a specialized account for tropical weather updates, @SNOhurricane. All three have RSS feeds, though the hurricane account only pulls in severe weather stories. It's obviously a work in progress and we're seriously considering Rob's advice to turn off the feeds.

  • Robert Quigley

    I like the Captain persona ;)

    We'll soon post our more in-depth opinions on what we think news organizations can/should do on Twitter.

  • Danny Sanchez

    Media organizations might benefit from both kinds of Twitter setups. At, we created a main account that was edited by our producers, and it's done reasonably well. We asked for feedback from our Twitter followers, and the suggestion repeated over and over was to create an account that had ALL the new headlines. So we set up another account that's a Twitterfeed of the home page breaking news.

    The human-edited has been way more successful (though we're talking about changing how we do things there to make it more personal). But there does exist a niche that wants those headlines coming in via Twitterfeed.

    That said, there's no doubt that any news organization that wants to make Twitter a real part of their social strategy can't rely on automation.

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  • Robert Quigley

    Thanks for the comment, Danny. The American-Statesman's RSS-fed acct (for just headlines) has been running for 6 months and has 131 followers (a good part of them are spam). I think that is what's helping to shape my opinion on this ;)

  • dan360man

    I find it interesting that you think it's all being done by a low-level producer.

    I agree that on-air personalities and reporters should have a presence in the space, but let's face it — 90% of them don't think it's their job to interact with their audience. Period.

    I'm more than happy to talk to you about this on the phone, Patrick. Just shoot me an e-mail at dhonigman {at} tribune {dot} com.

  • Brandon

    “umpteenth individual telling me what's for dinner tonight”
    I think shaking the tree and seeing what falls out is great, but what I'm hearing in these posts for the most part is that very few of us are pithy (for lack of a better word) enough to engage in a microblog.

  • Brandon

    I'm not even disagreeing, I'm just saying, use both, and get as much revenue out of the rss/human fed ones as you can. Remember, the rss fed tweet is written by a human. Presumably you are already generating revenue off the content on the news site itself, so this is doubling down. Or attempting to. I have never actually had to face the reality of selling the spots like most of you have as I have never worked at a newspaper. I'd say you better give it a damn good shot given the turmoil our industry is in. That's another discussion.

  • Patrick LaForge

    Dan, I think we agree more than we disagree. Yes, journalists should use Twitter (and other services) as a social tool, and you're right that a lot of them don't get it yet. But that's a separate issue from whether RSS is useful or appropriate on Twitter. I think it is. And whether it's a news assistant or the top editor, I'm not sure it's a great idea for a news organization's main branded Twitter account to be in one person's voice. I personally find it confusing. Great discussion.

  • Erica Smith

    The big thing with Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and any other social network you can think of is that you need to try it.

    Twitter has really caught on lately with news organizations. Sometime tonight I should be posting stats on newspapers that use Twitter, and how many followers they had Nov. 1 vs. Dec. 5. (Yeah, it should've been Dec. 1, but that was my birthday; I took the day off.) Nearly every account, whether they use RSS feeds or interact with users, has seen an increase in its number of followers.

    Generally speaking, though, when there's a real person behind the account that increase in followers is greater. Take a look at @latimes — the good folks at the LA paper just recently got control of that account, and they started using it to interact with users. Since Dec. 2, they've added more than 1,000 followers. Now they're taking other accounts off Twitterfeed, too, and the number of people they are reaching continues to skyrocket. In the last few weeks, the New York Times added several new Twitter accounts, too. Without RSS feeds.

    It's not just the big papers. Take a look at @theindependent, a small paper in Nebraska. That account started as an RSS feed, but when the web editor decided to start interacting with users, the number of followers took off. That small Nebraska paper has almost 400 followers.

    Still, the point is to get out there and get started. Play with it, see what works for you and see what you can do to improve it.

    For the record, I agree with Dan and Robert: Twitter works best when there's someone behind it. After working through some logistics, we're starting to do that at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (@weatherbird). If I want to follow an RSS feed … well, that's why I have Google Reader.

  • Mark Evans

    Actually, I think many people like to see RSS feeds within Twitter, especially new blog posts. I get tipped off to as many new blog posts from Twitter as I do from using a RSS reader.

  • Tina_Pittaway

    I am a newbie to Twitter, having signed up about a week or two ago. One of the first media sites I chose to follow was the Huffington Post. I dumped them a few days in because I was irritated by the sheer number of posts. I felt like I was being snowed under by their links, and thought “Why the heck do I want all this crap in my Twitter account?” Essentially I thought they were eyeball hogs. I'm still figuring out what I like and dislike about Twitter, and maybe I'll at some point change my mind about disliking a barrage of posts from sites like the HuffPost. But I'm not there yet.

  • Sam

    We run a Twitter account for the British Bournemouth Daily Echo. I started out with a Twitterfeed but I ditched it pretty quickly for posting links, like I would on my own Twitter account, with a hand-written tweet.
    I also use it to talk to our followers, a concept which is taking some time to kick in as I think most of them EXCEPT an RSS feed, and post tweets about traffic or breaking news. We also post links to other local content we think people might like.
    We're only a small paper and we don't have as many followers as I'd like but we get more click-throughs than our sister paper down the coast which only posts RSS feeds…

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  • Swage Machine

    A helpful post.. Thanks for this information.. hope you do another of this..


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