Here are some surprising statistics about the weekend’s national newspapers that hint at the media’s current fascination with Twitter.
In all national newspapers (as defined by the Audit Bureau of Circulations), there were 247 mentions of the word ‘Twitter’, according to our manual count.
Many of these were casual – including, for example, details of how a columnist could be contacted on Twitter – but 11 appeared in headlines and a further 15 occurred in introductory paragraphs. We can infer then that, in at least 26 cases, Twitter was central to the story.
We also counted uses of the word ‘Facebook’, which featured only 154 times (or three mentions for every five of Twitter). This, despite the fact that there are 30 million active Facebook users in the UK, dwarfing the six million tweeters.We conducted a manual count during the same weekend in August 2010 and the figure was considerably smaller for both services but more evenly split at 111 for Twitter and 100 for Facebook.
Clearly something is going on. Clearly journalists are becoming more interested in Twitter as a both a news source and a news subject in itself.
So how is this interest manifesting itself?
It seems to break down into three categories:
1. News stories and commentary about Twitter itself
On Saturday and Sunday, these included some very high profile talking points about how the service was used for bad (to organise looting) and for good (to organise clean-ups) during and after the riots. Louise Mensch MP called for a shut-down during future civil emergencies and got more attention for doing this even though it was the Prime Minister’s idea. Might this be because, unlike Mr Cameron, Mrs Mensch is associated with Twitter and she engaged with well-known opponents of the idea, like Piers Morgan, on Twitter itself? But there were also plenty of more frivolous news items. Welsh speakers, according to the Daily Star, were angry with Twitter, saying the site’s 140-character limit stops them using their own language. The Telegraph gleefully informed us that a Twitter account that was supposedly spouting a stream of entertaining snippets purportedly overheard in the lifts of the publishing giant Condé Nast had been closed down. The Guardian’s leader-writers felt justified in writing about a Twitter campaign in the U.S. to get Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie to have a same-sex wedding (this actually started as a Facebook campaign, although you wouldn’t have learnt this from reading the piece). The FT told us (paywall) that entrepreneur Tony Fernandes, owner of long-haul budget airline AirAsia was using Twitter as a personal branding tool.
2. News stories and commentary about what well-known people have posted on Twitter
These were numerous and featured a diverse cast of individuals, including Lord Sugar, the Libertines, Lady Gaga, crime writer Martyn Waites, Louise Mensch MP (again) and others. One wanted feedback on a potential cover design for their new book, another praised a new film release, a third complained of bullying. Then there was Joey Barton. There’s always Joey Barton.
3. ‘Furniture’-type features that always involve Twitter
These are regular slots whose entire existence is owed to Twitter. There are several and they include ‘Who Trended When’ in Observer Sport, which tells the tale of Saturday’s football by identifying which footballer was ‘trending’ when – and why. The Sunday Times has a ‘Twitter Question of the Week’, in which it invites questions on Twitter from readers to a pre-designated subject, who is then expected to answer (on Twitter, of course). On Sunday, Heathrow Airport was in the hotseat. Saturday’s Daily Mirror carries a ‘Twitter of the week’ section, which usually involves some catty quote by an allegedly famous ‘sleb’ about another.
So what can we, in PR, learn from all this?
First and foremost that journalists are almost obsessed with Twitter. They are continually scanning tweets to see what people say and they’re not only interested in the famous. This alone is something that your clients need to know.
Journalists are also finding reaction to breaking news on Twitter and, in some cases, making a judgement on how newsworthy something is by the amount of interest it receives on Twitter.
While you don’t have to partake in conversations on Twitter, or even have a profile, to view what people are saying, journalists are stampeding like migrating wildebeest onto the service.
Twitter is the new press release. A lot of the reporting of the views on famous people are taken from Twitter and celebrities, politicians, police chiefs, business leaders and many others are beginning to realise this.
Twitter is in and of itself newsworthy – stories like the Bert and Ernie proposed civil partnership mentioned above and David Starkey’s outburst on Newsnight have found their billing inflated – perhaps beyond the traditional merit of their newsworthiness, purely because they have Twitter elements in them. By the way, Piers Morgan is quoted in the Starkey story because – guess what – he commented on Twitter.
Most – but not all – Twitter stories have an amusing edge.
What can you do to capitalise?
Whatever your industry, from financial services to sport, local politics to entertainment, you’d be advised to:
(a) Help clients understand the importance of Twitter to the media, as we’ve outlined above;
(b) Encourage clients them to engage on Twitter with the relevant journalists, commentators and opinion formers;
(c) Spot the added newsworthiness of whatever your clients are doing if it involves Twitter and make it part of your story.
Michael Taggart is head of digital and social at MRM. Follow him here on Twitter.