Should a newsroom babble on Twitter?

My gut says no. yes. no. yes … well maybe, but not too much.

I recently attended the Social Capital Conference hosted here in Ottawa (a great event, if you’re thinking of attending the 2013 event) and attended a great session hosted by Kelly Rusk on using social media for research. You can read a recap of her presentation on her website, kellyrusk.ca.

At one point in her presentation, Rusk talked about ‘babble’, the seemingly inane, which allows companies to connect with individuals. “I love babble,” she said.

I put up my hand, and asked her – and the room – if they felt the source of the Twitter account determined whether or not they were interested in babble.

This is something I’ve been thinking about in our newsroom, where we have two Twitter accounts: @OCHeadlines, which is a robot-feed of headlines as they update in the various sections of our site; and @OttawaCitizen, which is operated by ‘humans’, who can respond to reader questions about stories, delivery, etc. as well as post breaking news – and tell you why  you might want to read a story (providing as much context as possible in 140 characters).

Do people really want us to babble?

We created the @OCHeadlines account fearing that people didn’t want to miss a single headline (on our main account, we pick and choose the best and most important news of the day).

This speaks to a media shift that has occurred – media outlets are no longer just reporting the news, they are inviting their audiences to be a part of a conversation about the news.

For example, our robot-fed headlines Twitter account has 829 followers, while the @OttawaCitizen account, staffed by our online editors, has 26,034 followers.

So when I asked my question at the end of Rusk’s presentation, I was interested – and surprised that the general consensus from the room was that our followers are happy to have some babble from our newsroom.

The issue I’m having with babble is whether it negatively affects credibility.

‘But surely no one cares what we’ve eaten for lunch,’ I asked.

‘No, but it’s good to know that there is a person behind the news we’re getting,’ said a member of the audience (whose name I now regret not taking down).

Ah, the humanness of social media – even when from a news organization.

For example, take this tweet (by yours truly) on Friday morning, after more than month-long drought in the area:

The response from one of our readers was immediate:

It was a good reminder of the conversation at Rusk’s presentation –  and by the readers in the room – that while we are delivering the news, we are humans.

It’s okay to lose the stiff upper lip and be chatty once in a while. Especially something innocuous like the weather.

But no one needs to know if I decided to go for the cafeteria’s specialty: ‘three-day-old chili.’

(Photo courtesy of There will be bread)

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One thought on “Should a newsroom babble on Twitter?

  1. I’d like to see newsrooms relinquish their brand to the faces that make it up. If instead of natively posting, you simply RT’ed your journalists, that would grow your network in a way that would endear yourselves to your audience. Even though humans are running the @OttawaCitizen account, how do I know that, and how do I know who is running the account? The counter-argument to this is often that it can be jarring to see faces that you are unfamiliar with in your newsfeed, but in an attention economy, is it not the goal to be slightly jarring? In this post I wrote about the value of an automatic RT versus a manual RT, I pulled some papers that suggest novel stimuli will naturally tend to earn more attention than familiar stimuli. By RT’ing other users, the Citizen could ensure that when the branded logo is seen, it might have sufficient novelty to still attract visual attention in a crowded tweet-stream.
    Post: http://www.attentioneconomist.com/2012/03/which-is-worth-more-automatic-or-manual.html

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