Producer’s note: “Best practices for live-tweeting” is part of a series of columns that highlights sections of the Reese Felts Digital Newsroom Guide, a comprehensive guidebook created and practiced by the reesenews staff.
If used well, Twitter is a powerful medium for covering breaking news, events in progress and speeches. Its short-form, real-time nature can allow us to engage with a large audience and to send out bursts of valuable information quickly and effectively. We’ve recently begun live-tweeting news and events through our @reesenews Twitter account, and I’ve written up the following list of best practices to help us along:
Choose a #hashtag
If you think other people are live-tweeting from the event, search possible hashtags on Twitter to see whether one main hashtag has emerged for the event. In addition, some events may have an official hashtag — ask the event manager if this is the case.
Tweet an introduction, a conclusion and reminders
In your first message, introduce yourself, explain that you’re live-tweeting and name the event you’re covering and where it’s being held.
For example: “This is @yourname for @reesenews live-tweeting from John Smith’s talk on local elections at Memorial Hall. Stay tuned for updates #Smith”
In your last message, state that you’ve finished and thank our followers. If you’re going to follow up with news story on the event, tell readers to watch for it soon on reesenews.org.
Not everyone will be with you from beginning to end. Part way through the event, tweet a reminder message.
For example: “If you’re just joining us, this is @yourname for @reesenews live-tweeting from John Smith’s talk at Memorial Hall #Smith”
When you quote a speaker or summarize what they’ve said, use attribution. In general, format tweets by writing the speaker’s last name, followed by a colon, at the beginning of the tweet. If you’re mentioning the speaker for the first time, use their full name and title. If the speaker’s last name is also your hashtag, tag the name.
For example: “#Smith: More students voted in this year’s local elections than any election in the last 10 years.”
Tweet information rather than actions
Rather than tweeting who is speaking or what subjects they’re talking about, aim to tweet quotes or summaries of what they’ve actually said.
For example: rather than writing, “Smith is now talking about the Chapel Hill town council” or “Smith is describing recent developments in local politics,” write “Smith: The Chapel Hill town council plans to discuss a sales tax increase at their next meeting.”
When doing so, hit only the highlights. Be cognizant of the fact that not all of our followers are going to be interested in every event we cover.
A lot of live-tweeting contains editorializing – ours can’t. Stay objective, just as you would while writing a full-length news story.
Join the conversation
If you’re using your laptop, open up Twitter, run a search for your hashtag, and leave the window open throughout the event; other Twitter users may use the same hashtag as you to discuss the event. If another user makes a valuable insight that you missed, retweet the message.
If other Twitter users respond to your coverage with questions or comments, be sure to respond to them, even if it’s just to say “Thanks.”
Some live-tweeting examples
Noel Cody, a senior from St. Louis, is director of audience engagement for the Reese Felts Digital News Project.