“Forced” Twitter Use

Here I go again… Talking about Twitter. But I just got involved in a really interesting conversation on Twitter that I think is worth bringing to this blog (Thanks to Scott Hepburn’s encouragement). I’ve been on Twitter a while — I obviously blog and speak about it a bunch. I also like to share how to use it as a journalist. I haven’t mastered all of the answers. But I do think a personal relationship with your followers on Twitter helps you gain a personal relationship with people who live in your news market. If you’re transparent, you can gain story ideas, access to developing news and a way people know they can reach you.

The Twitter talk has grown recently at the Missouri School of Journalism. I’ve added it to my class. I encourage my students to get their own personal account to start playing around in there. They have a new outlet to build a personal online identity as they get closer to entering the job arena. I also ask them to use it by keeping up with what people are saying who follow KOMU and use it to post information about what we’re covering or post breaking news.

I started going on a rant on Twitter about student journalists who get forced to use the site. I saw a number of new members of Twitter who followed me recently complaining that they’d been forced to use Twitter. And I guess I got all up in arms because I worry about reporters who start using Twitter because they “have” to. That leads to situations like when a news reporter tweeted during a 3-year-old’s funeral. He could have made that work if he had been more sensitive. But if you read the posts, you realize that he didn’t understand the personal conversation you have using this tool.

The conversation went on and on. Somehow I even got Ana Marie Cox – formerly of Wonkette – to tell me she found Twitter on her own and was never forced to use it. My little rant got a lot of people talking about why should journalists be on Twitter (I’ve ranted on that before) and is it right or wrong to get forced into it. Then a number of people started sharing great tips. Howard Rheingold shared his favorite links about twitter. Cecelia Hanley shared her experiences: “@jenleereeves I usually use @gazettefood for work related tweets, and I follow other bloggers & papers. Great way to spot trends to localize.” Jenn Jarvis over at KWWL-TV said she joined Twitter to be able to reach lawmakers. Twitter seemed to be the only way to reach them when they were in session. Many, many others talked about how Twitter is a great tool to help boost your career or get your name out there.

Some professors told me how they are “forcing” their students to tweet… And it seems to be working out fine. My husband (@newsmonkey8 on Twitter) says I’m worrying about something that is just plain silly to worry about. But I’m just going to say this before we keep this conversation rolling: Twitter is a wonderful tool for journalists as long as we use it responsibly. If enough newsrooms force reporters, producers, editors and managers to use the tool without really understanding its potential, Twitter users will turn away from us. They will ignore us. For now, journalists can offer an insider view of the news on Twitter. I would love to keep that excitement rolling.


  1. Jen, I never had you for class when I was at Mizzou, but I think you’re a great resource.

    Jen’s class: Listen up. I’m just a few years out of school, but the time I’ve been out actually doing journalism (I work for Gannett) I’ve learned that it’s not about getting hired by a big corporation and working your way up the ladder over a 50 year career. Especially in this cutback climate, it is SO, SO important to build your own brand.

    You’re LUCKY the J-school faculty is encouraging you to create these accounts. Get on Twitter before the only username left is “puffyfeather123” or something. Use your own name and develop a sense of ownership around the content you can create. It’s not hard to find a balance between personal and professional. Just think twice about tweeting from Harpo’s.

    I wrote a column about how social media’s influenced my career for an upcoming issue of our magazine. Feeling burnt out and damning the man after only a year on the job, being a new media pioneer at our paper has gotten me recognized by editors and established me as a liaison between the readers and writers. I’ve gotten story ideas, found sources and hope my twitter presence can lead to more freelance work.

    The J-students at Drake University are all taking entire courses on personal branding and I think it’d be great if Mizzou could offer the same concept.

  2. This is a GREAT subject for debate, Jen, and not just for reporters. As more companies realize the power and potential of Twitter, I suspect we’ll hear of more employees being INSTRUCTED to Tweet.

    The risks of “forced” Tweeting are huge. The compulsory Tweeter risks lost credibility, damaged reputation, and being linked to an employer’s point-of-view with which he or she may not agree.

    The company that requires its minions to Tweet also stands to lose — BIG TIME. The company will come across as ham-handed, awkward, and out of touch with the mores of social media. Such mandates could sour a company’s perception with customers, harm recruiting efforts, and stifle exploration and new ideas.

    Whether the mandate comes from a boss, a professor, a client or some other “authority,” compulsory Tweets are a dangerous path.

  3. Anne Ebeling

    Jen, I JUST joined Twitter and, frankly, I wish I would have done it sooner. I resisted for months, mostly because I was unsure how it worked, and now I feel WAY behind. I *wish* someone would have forced me to join! It seems like a wonderful tool for journalists. As for this journalist – I still have a lot to learn about Twitter, but at least I’ve started…

  4. Rob Weir

    Two thoughts

    One that I posted on Jen’s facebook this morning:
    “You know what drives me up the wall? The concept that [individual technology]=[knowledge of journalism]. For example, Flash = interactive journalism.

    “No one worth his/her salt would assume that forcing students to use Word would mean they suddenly know how to write. But that’s how we treat technology. It’s ridiculous.”

    And a second thought:
    If we as educators want our students to use a new technology, then let’s demonstrate the benefits of using it so well that they’ll love trying it.

    We teach writing this way — we let people see how using techniques in interviewing and framing stories makes them better.

    Why not do the same with new technologies like Twitter? Make the cost/benefit tradeoff so clear they’ll be logging on while we’re still talking.

  5. So, Katherine and I are the ones “forcing” the Twitter usage. I guest lectured on Twitter today and last Thursday, and Katherine asked them all to sign up for Twitter to start exploring.

    I was a little surprised at the resistance. In my opinion, if you’re not willing to be an early adopter of things like Twitter, Facebook and other popular social-networking outlets, you’re not going to land a job in journalism.

    The immediacy of the technology and the rise of citizen journalism has made EVERYONE a breaking-news reporter. The key to a successful future for our students will be 1) Be fast; 2) Be accurate; 3) Be transparent. If they can’t handle No.1, they won’t last.

  6. Jake… It is interesting that you’re facing this kind of attitude from some of the reporters. Hopefully we can show them how we use Twitter and continue to bring folks in the industry into the loop to show why it’s important to be flexible and open-minded. I introduced twitter to my students as an extra place to build their personal brand… And could be helpful as reporters. That may have led to a more open acceptance. I’m not sure.

  7. I posted some thoughts on my blog about the teaching end of it, but wanted to add some other stuff here.

    I’m glad to see the use of it is being forced, to be honest. I do get some of the reservations about forcing the actual tweeting, but the more I think about it the more I think that Twitter itself can be a classroom. If your students are following you, they are taking cues from you on how to use it and what works in that type of new social environment. I know I learned a lot just watching others tweet when I first started out.

    Will this mean fits and starts (hopefully no funeral tweets though)? Probably. But that wouldn’t make it any different than what they’re producing for the Missourian, Vox, KOMU, or KBIA every day. They make mistakes and they learn how to do it.

  8. You know…. I think what really got me was the tone of some of the young jurno tweets. They were complaining and clearly not interested in learning. It sucks that we have to force students to use tools that will enhance the journalistic process. But this same attitude is happening in pro newsrooms all over the place. Similar attitudes but a salary that requires them to actually use Twitter or whatever hip tool without acquiring enough skill to use it. At least our students have a chance to tinker without management breathing down their neck… If they take this opportunity seriously. Man. I’m clearly on a rant today. Sorry about that!

  9. Seems most of the students here are interested in learning, maybe just not interested in learning Twitter?

    Or, the typical quote: “I didn’t come here to learn THAT.” I get that all the time. I’m finding the students here more and more are coming with an agenda of what they want to learn based on what they think journalism is.

  10. Rob Weir

    I guess where I come down on this is that it reminds me of forcing students to read the newspaper. I can see Jake’s points — I also don’t think our students will survive if they don’t embrace new tech. We used to force them to read the print paper, and some wouldn’t. Those folks aren’t going to succeed anyhow, no matter what we try to do to them.

  11. Rob,

    I don’t really think likening Twitter to Word is the right analogy. Although I see your point that they’re both just tools. I think the J-school needs to integrate new tools for journalists into the coursework, while maintaining classes on ethics, etc.

  12. Hi Jenn … the notion of forcing students into these environments is intriguing to me on a lot of levels. In the class I’ve taught most recently I had about 20 doctoral students … none of them had used or heard of Twitter when they came in. For the first couple of weeks they all disliked the tool. Then something interesting happened — community. After a few weeks nearly all of them latched onto Twitter in ways I haven’t seen students do before. My point is that forcing them in at the start may be what needs to happen — working to make it meaningful is what takes it to the next level. I imagine in the landscape you teach in students are willing to participate, but forcing them may be part of the game.

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  14. You know Cole, I’ve spent the last 24 hours mulling over the “forcing” concept. I’ve been worried about it after seeing really poor choices on Twitter… But then it seems like hard-headed people may need that extra push to really see how helpful this tool and many other tools can be. It’s helpful for higher ed, it’s helpful for journalism, it’s helpful for PR and all other careers that involve communication. It was kind of cool to see how New York Times’ David Pogue wrote today how it took a while for him to buy into Twitter: http://tinyurl.com/aw5vhl

    My main hesitation: professional journalists shouldn’t be forced to professionally tweet without taking the time to learn the tool. If you don’t understand the community tone of Twitter before you live tweet, you can quickly lose credibility. I guess I keep dwelling on the funeral tweeting situation. That was devastating for journalism. I’d hate to see that happen again.

    Classes in the Missouri School of Journalism should consider “forcing” students to use twitter… but the students should be mindful that every word they write is connected to their name. Building a twitter identity before working in a newsroom is a much better process than feeling “forced” while working in the newsroom. The journalism school should think about bringing in a Twitter/Social Media identity building process much earlier in the curriculum. I think I have a better idea on how I’m going present the topic of eportfolios with freshman in April.

  15. I think Jeremy’s right on with the notion that Twitter is a classroom in itself. I’ve tried to explain it to friends and fellow journalists who continue to claim they “just don’t get it,” and my conclusion is always “you just need to try it and see for yourself!” I honestly had no idea what Twitter was before I signed up. I learned from the people I started following.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to force people in the “real world” to join Twitter. When they see how much newsroom leaders (and I’m not just talking editors) benefit from the tool they are intrigued and want to be in on the action. That’s how it is in my newsroom. Those who have really embraced Twitter are leading by example and new Tweeters pick it up by following them.

    I can see the reason for forcing students to join Twitter – but in my newsroom experience there is no need to force. Almost everyone is hungry to try it out. They want to be the best journalists they can be and they know social media is part of that.

    It actually kind of boggles my mind that college students growing up in the Facebook era are more resistant to it than 45-year-old ink-and-paper veterans. Is my generation becoming burnt out on social media??

  16. Rob Weir

    Brianne, my intention wasn’t to say that Twitter and Word are analagous.

    The point I was trying to make (perhaps not clearly) is that all too often we confuse knowledge of technology with proper use of technology.

    I can’t tell you how many faculty meetings I’ve been in when we argue over teaching students this program or that program, when in the end we need to teach them the journalism and not worry so much about the exact tool.

    Perhaps a more precise analogy is InDesign/Quark. If you teach someone the principles of design, the end tool doesn’t matter. Sure there are some things that are easier to do on one program than another, but you get the same printed page with either.

  17. I’m one of the students in Katherine and Jake’s class, and I recently blogged about Twitter, so I thought I’d throw in my two cents after following this discussion for a number of days.

    I just took a look at my very first Twitter update, and unfortunately I did use the word “forced,” which I regret now because I think it was out of line. (@sethjputnam: “I was forced to join Twitter for class, and I’m not happy about it.”)

    I shouldn’t have said that we were forced–there are no grades depending on our Twitter use as of yet. Assigned to join probably would have been the right thing to say. And as far as actual “forced tweets” are concerned, I don’t know where people got that idea.

    Let me first apologize for the negative backlash exhibited by myself and others. I know that you guys are conscientiously exploring the uses of social media, and you’re investing so much in trying to figure out how to help journalism and its students.

    Sure, some of us are skeptical, but the fact that we’re here says that we’re willing to challenge our cynicism. I’ll admit that I’ve surprisingly found twitter useful as conversation starter, especially about itself. But there are some things that concern me, too.

    For me the initial resistance comes from the personal uses of Twitter. Is it important or helpful for people to know that I’m hungry right now? Or that I just woke up? Or that I’m debating between the Asics or the Puma shoes? When I first heard about Twitter (outside the J-school) it was in the context of using it to inform all of your friends (and/or strangers) what you’re doing as you’re doing it. For extended, detailed personal use, I’m having a hard time seeing it as more useful than it is unhelpful because I think that people could be doing something a little more productive with their time.

    BUT, from the short time that I’ve been a Twitter user, I can see that it definitely can be helpful in terms of identifying trends, coming up with story ideas, and creating conversations with our audience. So I guess you could say that my initial perceptions have been challenged. I very much agree agree with what Rob is saying–in the end we need to be concerned with what helps us tell the story. I think that’s what the whole sequence of convergence relies upon.

    So if Twitter is another way of doing that, let’s check it out. I’m willing to have an open mind and to learn. But there are still some things that concern me.

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