How to: Use Twitter for news

Digital Trends
How to: Use Twitter for news
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How to: Use Twitter for news

On Monday, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released its “The State of the News Media 2012” report, which shows that just 9 percent of US Internet users get their news from either Facebook or Twitter. That compares to more than a third (36 percent) who go straight to their favorite news sites, 32 percent who get their news from “search” (i.e. Google), and 29 percent who use a news aggregator or app. When looking at Twitter alone, the number of people who “very often” get their news from Twitter is even lower, a mere 3 percent.

For those of us in the news industry, this is a staggeringly low number. Why? Because Twitter is an excellent source for news of all types, especially for breaking news or other big events. Furthermore, Twitter allows readers to get an added perspective on the news by following the actual journalists who do the reporting. In other words, people should use Twitter for news, if for nothing else. So to help you get started, here is a guide for launching your custom-tailored Twitter news feed.

Getting started

The first step is, of course, to get a Twitter account. According to Twitter, the majority of users never make this leap, and simply check out the feeds of particular users without ever signing in. That’s fine — but it’s a much less efficient and satisfying way to use the service. And to make it better, you’ll need an account.

Setting up your account is as simple and fast as it is anywhere: just enter your name (or nickname), email address, and your desired password. Twitter will generate options for your username (i.e. @yourname) based on what you enter in the “full name” field. You can either pick one Twitter suggests, or select one of your own. Just remember to keep it unique and, if possible, short; if you ever want to start tweeting (not necessary for just getting your news), you’ll appreciate a short username — you only have 140 characters, after all.

Once you’ve selected your name, you’re all ready to go. Twitter provides a quick walkthrough of the various functionalities of the service, like how to tweet, some suggestions for who to follow, and ways to find people you might know by searching your various lists of contacts (from Gmail, AOL, Yahoo, etc). You can skip all of these steps by clicking the link on the bottom left corner of the page. Once you’re through, you’re ready to start following.

Reading

If you simply want to consume news — that is to say, read tweets and click on links — then all you have to do is look at your stream, and see what those you follow are posting. There’s no need to go beyond this, if you don’t want to. But there’s a good chance you’ll want to get in on the conversation.

Note: Keep in mind that everything those you follow post will appear in your stream, and you don’t have to pay attention to all of it. You can, of course, but the good stuff will likely pop up more than once, so don’t feel any need to read every single tweet.

Tweets

Tweeting is simple: just type in what you want to say, in 140 characters or fewer. You can also post links by copy-pasting them into the “compose new tweet” box on Twitter.com, or add pictures to your tweets by clicking the camera icon that appears in the bottom left corner of the tweet box.

Retweets (aka RT)

To retweet (i.e. repost someone else’s tweet on your Twitter feed), simply click the “retweet” button that appears on each tweet in your stream when you hover your mouse over the tweet. A box will pop up, click the blue “retweet” button, and the tweet will be posted to your account for those who follow you to enjoy.

Direct Messages (aka DM)

Unlike replies, direct messages, or DMs, are private, so only you and the recipient can see the message. Unfortunately, the person who you want to send a DM to must follow you — you cannot send DMs to people who do not follow you. In turn, you must follow someone in order for them to be able to send you DMs. To send a DM, either click on the “direct messages” tab, which can be accessed via the drop-down menu next to the search bar on Twitter.com. Or you can simply type “DM recipient username blah blah blah” in the regular tweet box. Please note, yo do not have to include the “@” symbol before a person’s username when you send a DM.

@ Replies

Replies are basically messages (similar to text messages) that go to a specific user. All “@” replies are public. If you want to send a public message to someone, you can either hit “reply,” which will automatically put their “@” username in a tweet box. You can then type whatever you’d like to say. Using this method, your reply will automatically be linked to the tweet to which you’re responding, so don’t feel any need to waste precious characters by explaining what you’re talking about.

You can also simply type in someone’s “@” username, and send them a public message. Just remember: these tweets are public, and can be seen by anyone who visits your profile page. Also, you can send replies and public “@” messages to anyone, regardless of whether or not you follow them. And you can send a single message to multiple people at once.

#Hashtags

Hashtags are one of the most useful parts of the Twitter experience. Hashtags always include a “#” sign followed by a word, acronym or phrase, with no spaces. By adding a hashtag to your tweets, you automatically link your tweet to all other tweets that use the same hashtag, which helps ensure that people interested in that topic will see it. So if, for instance, you send a tweet about an Occupy Wall Street protest, you might use the hashtag “#OWS.” People searching or filtering for tweets that include “#OWS” will be better able to find your tweet.

On the flip side, if you’re wanting to read about a particular topic, and you know what the hashtag is, you can search for that hashtag, which will bring up all the tweets that include it. Or, if you see the hashtag used in a tweet that interests you, simply click the hashtag, and Twitter automatically opens a search for that hashtag for you.

For breaking news or ongoing events, like a natural disaster, a sporting event, or an election, hashtags are your most valuable tool. Using them, and reading the tweets that use them for a particular story or topic, is the absolute best way to stay up-to-the-second on breaking news — which is really where Twitter shines as a news source.

To help discover interesting or popular hashtags, Twitter lists trending hashtags along the left side of your home screen. You can choose to view trending hashtags and topics for the whole world, down to major metropolises in your state, which enables you to see what people nearby are talking about.

Who to follow

With more than 140 million accounts on Twitter, narrowing down who to follow and who to ignore is easily the most cumbersome task. And I suspect this is one of the primary reasons most people just forget the whole thing altogether — that’s totally understandable. Unfortunately, I can’t provide a list of accounts that will cover everyone’s interests. (I could try, of course, but it would quickly get out of hand, probably offend a lot of people unnecessarily, and never be adequately thorough.) Instead, I suggest using the “search” box that appears at the top of Twitter, when you’re logged in. Just type the name of a publication or journalist that you enjoy, and you’ll likely be able to find what you’re looking for this way.

To help speed up the process, I highly suggest checking out Time magazine’s (@Time) list of “The 140 best Twitter feeds of 2012.” The list, created by social media editor Allie Townsend (@Allie_Townsend) and social media assistant Amy Lombard (@Amy_Lombard) covers all the major categories you will likely want to include in your spiffy news stream. Just make sure you’re signed into Twitter when you sift through all the selections, as each one includes an embedded tweet from the suggested Twitter accounts that has a “follow” button right on it — click, and you’re following.

The more you use Twitter, the more users you will find who post the types of content you’re looking for. This often comes from retweeted posts by account you already follow, so make sure to keep an eye out for quality retweeted posts. Also, to get the most added benefit, be sure to follow individual users, not just publications, as you’ll find much more behind-the-scenes info, educated opinions, and good commentary on the hot topics of the day this way.

Odds & ends

Twitter has a vast ecosystem of third-party applications and additional functionalities. Some of them are useful, others are not. But it really depends on the wants and needs of each user as to which category each falls into.

While the new Twitter.com interface is great, you may find that a separate Twitter client is more up your alley. If you follow a lot of feeds, and like to keep a constant stream of tweets flowing in the background, I highly recommend TweetDeck, which is now owned by Twitter. Rather than have to refresh, TweetDeck constantly updates with a river of Tweets. This means you’ll likely miss a lot of what is posted if you’re not paying attention, but is particularly good in breaking news situations, when you want to get the most recent information as quickly as possible. If you prefer to use an alternative Web-based client, HootSuite is a great option. For mobile, I’ve found the standard Twitter app (available for most smartphone operating systems) to be the best. (All of these apps listed are free.)

Conclusion

Twitter is vast, and deep, which is part of the reason it remains odd and overwhelming to a great many people. But do not fret — with just a little bit of time, you’ll be up and running with your curated Twitter news feed in no time. And if you have any questions about Twitter, or how to get rolling, feel free to comment, or hit me up on Twitter (@andrewcouts). See you there!

[Image via Annette Shaff/Shutterstock]

This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

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