Old Media Interview: Ryan Osborn, producer, NBC Today Show

January 12th, 2009

A couple of months ago, I started exchanging Tweets with @TodayShow, and I wanted to know a bit more about the persona.

Ryan Osborn is a producer at NBC’s Today Show, and he gets social media. As he works in a broadcast newsroom, Ryan faces a completely different set of challenges than what most newspaper folks face.

Ryan Osborn

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I always thought that I would be an English teacher but after graduating from Vanderbilt University in 2001, I got a job as an NBC Page (like Kenneth). After giving tours of studios and working on assignments all over 30 Rock, I was hired to work at the front desk of Today in 2002. I became a producer in 2007.

What are your official duties?

I am a producer at NBC’s Today. My official duties are different everyday but most often I work a late shift and contribute to the breaking news coverage on our broadcast.

What unofficial roles have you taken on?

I twitter under the alias of @todayshow.

What prompted you — and the Today Show — to take the social media plunge? What made you decide to get on Twitter?

Beyond the obvious answer of being one part of a big media company trying to connect with an audience in several new ways, my own interest in Twitter goes back to SXSW. I heard a lot of buzz about the technology while at the same time I had no clue how it worked. I remember thinking it was a great tool for local media and a cool way to create a discussion online while also making no money. My initial thought was it might be a useful way to connect people that come down to our plaza everyday. I think that holding signs up for cameras on Rockefeller Plaza is a similar impulse to twittering. However, for several different reasons the idea never happened. In the meantime our marketing team had started an account that was updated automatically by Twitterfeed. I remember reading it and thinking that it was a robot. So when our show traveled to Beijing to cover the Olympics, I thought it might be the right opportunity to start posting manually. After talking to our executive producer, Jim Bell, I began posting.

Do your co-workers and bosses get what you do? How do you explain it to them? Do you even bother?

I am really lucky because Jim has been very supportive. I think I also benefit from his wife being one our closest followers. You have to remember that while Twitter has gone mainstream among tech saavy crowds, it is still really confusing for most to understand. I try to explain it to my co-workers as much as possible. I have learned a lot from following Jim Long (@newmediajim) who is a cameraman for NBC News in our Washington Bureau. He was way ahead of his time.

A lot of news-related Twitter accounts are just that: news driven. @TodayShow, however, seems to have the role of promoting its show and, even more so, its talent. Where do you balance? Do you have a rule of thumb?

My biggest concern and something I am most aware of is that I never want to give the impression that I am talking for or trying to be the voice of Matt, Meredith, Ann, or Al. I try to promote things they are doing and their segments on the show but my rule of thumb is only post stuff that would be appropriate for the broadcast.

Something like the Today Show seems like it has enough penetration so that people know what it is. What’s your main goal of being in the social Web?

Getting to be a part of the Today brand is an honor and it has been exciting to see our followers respond. However, I also feel a lot of pressure not to screw it up. My main goal is to connect with our viewers and help share what I believe is some of the best content on the web. Yet I would be lying if I didn’t say that my other goal is to get a few more clicks at www.todayshow.com

The golden rule in broadcast television has been to never, ever mention the competition. In the social space, mentioning your competition and linking to other good content is the norm. How do you balance the two on Twitter? Do you think it will ever be possible for a major broadcaster to mention or link to competition, either online or on the air?

This is a tricky question and not sure how to answer it. Our show does an incredible job of covering it all every morning. It hasn’t happened yet where I have felt the need to link to any of our competition but if the time comes I would do it. We are all part of “the link economy”.

What are three tips you have for folks in mainstream broadcast media looking to use social media?

1) Don’t rely on Twitterfeed. In my mind, it is the equivalent of spam. It is harder work to post manually, but you will quickly start seeing results.

2) Don’t listen to critics. You are going to hear a lot about how these sites lack business models and are a waste of time. Right now that is a fair point but now is the time to start figuring them out. Create a killer account that will make everybody look good.

3) Have fun. This is something I want to improve on our account. The audience online is smart and can be intimidating. Try to make them laugh and you can’t go wrong.


If you have any questions for Ryan, please feel free to post them as comments below. He’s also on Twitter.

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Entry Filed under: Old Media Interview

  • Brad

    Ryan is the man! Great work with Twitter!

    Love your brother Brad

  • http://savethemedia.com Gina Chen

    I think Ryan raises some really important points about twitter.

    First — it is so like signs people hold up for the Today Show cameras. That's a great way to explain it. I find myself having a hard time explaining twitter and its usefulness for journalists to my co-worker journalists. It's hard to get twitter until you try it; but I agree that the biggest danger is to use it only to market your brand — and not to connect with people.

    For me, that feels like spam. I need the human touch. Twitterfeeds don't do much for me. I like to get a sense of the person tweeting, so I like a mix of personal observations, links to news stories, links to blogs, and clever fun stuff.

  • http://kathrynhallpublicist.com Kathryn Hall

    Hi,Ryan! As a book publicist with almost thirty (!!) years under my belt you can only imagine how thrilled I am that social media is tearing down the walls and making the whole process more real and FUN! Thank you so much for pushing the envelope! LOVE cutting edge folks!

  • http://danielhonigman.com dan360man

    Thanks for checking out our site, Kathryn. Hope you'll stop by again!

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    he really covered up a lot of interesting facts about twitter, social media is a must for every business owners as it can help in gaining a lot of positive feedbacks from other people and increase your popularity to them..

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