Twitter has earned its reputation as both a journalistic haven and a potential ender of careers. Its value in a breaking news scenario cannot be overstated, and yet the viral “fails” the platform has seen continue to define it in the public eye. While Twitter is the favored social media outlet for many in the news industry, it has struggled to find favor with younger users. Those behind the company have already announced dramatic changes to its format, and many wonder whether Twitter can remain relevant in an increasingly Snapchat world.
Michael Kanin, publisher of the Austin Monitor, moderated a panel at SXSW Interactive yesterday asking what the news producers who use it every day see for the future of the platform and whether their relationship with Twitter has changed over the years. He was joined by Jamelle Bouie, staff writer for Slate Magazine; Michael DeBonis, congressional reporter at The Washington Post; and Emily Ramshaw, Editor of the Texas Tribune.
Almost immediately, Ramshaw reminded the panel and the audience that while journalists tend to over-focus on Twitter, most news outlets receive the overwhelming majority of their social media traffic through Facebook. She added that because of the large number of news industry insiders on the platform, Twitter has the potential to become an echo chamber for these super-active users.
She does use Twitter every day, however, and continues to see it as an essential tool for journalists not only in promotional strategy but for news cultivation and sourcing.
Bouie and DeBonis tackled the ways that fear has prevented many users from engaging actively on Twitter, and how businesses have erred in trying to back-pedal offensive tweets. Bouie said watching those who have failed with poorly worded tweets and the intense backlash they can unleash has created a culture of anxiety that can discourage new users. Paradoxically, we continue to see these ill-fated tweets go viral because of the platform’s “friction-free” barrier to publishing content.
The opportunity to say something stupid can be huge, Bouie laughed.
DeBonis added that even in the face of an offensive tweet, most companies and users handle the situation poorly. Deleting a tweet isn’t enough, he said. Companies need to own up to the process and/or culture behind the tweet and explain their decision to remove it.
The panel ended with a vote of confidence for Twitter from all the panelists. While their relationship with the platform continues to be informed by its potential for disaster, they agreed that its value overwhelms its setbacks.
SXTX State spoke with Ramshaw afterwards and asked her opinion on the future of Twitter and social media in general, as young users flock to Snapchat and label Facebook the family-friendly platform of their parents.
Her answer? In a nutshell: If you want to be an engaged and informed news-consumer, go where the news is – wherever it is.