News organizations and popular journalists use Twitter primarily to broadcast links, a new study finds, and rarely do they solicit audience input or retweet others.
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism studied every tweet sent in one week by six newspapers (The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today,The Wall Street Journal, Arizona Republic, The Toledo Blade) five broadcasters (NPR, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC News), and two websites (Huffington Post, Daily Caller), as well as the most-followed individual journalist at each.
The key finding: “News organizations use Twitter in limited ways — primarily as an added means to disseminate their own material. Both the sharing of outside content and engagement with followers are rare.”
On the main news accounts for each organization, 93 percent of tweets linked to a news story on its own website. Just 2 percent of tweets asked followers for input; just 1 percent were retweets of a Twitter account outside the organization.
You might anticipate more personal engagement from the individual journalists. But the study showed only slight increases there, with 3 percent of tweets seeking information and 6 percent retweeting an outside account.
There were some exceptions among news outlets and journalists.
Individual exceptions cited in the study were NPR’s Scott Simon, who solicited information from followers three times out of 29 tweets. USA Today’s Whitney Matheson also did so in three out of 19 tweets.
Fox News was the biggest standout, with 21 percent of tweets seeking feedback and 44 percent retweets. (This may have changed since the PEJ study period in February. Glancing at the @FoxNews tweets for last week shows almost no solicitation or outside retweets.)
PEJ provides examples:
For instance, the Fox account solicited input on topics ranging from foreign policy, “Are you tweeting in Iran? Tell us!” and “…follow Bahrain uprising @foxnews/Bahrain – let us know who you are following, we’ll add to the list #Bahrain #Egypt11,” to consumer interest topics, “After 16 states banned phosphorus in dishwasher detergent how are YOU getting dishes clean? #cleandishers or email email@example.com.” While it is unknown how much feedback is actually received from these tweets, engagement with those followers appears to be a bigger part of the Fox News Twitter strategy.
Perhaps in part because of its approach at the time, Fox News grew its followers more rapidly (up 118 percent) than the other 12 outlets from February to October. The Washington Post doubled its following, perhaps in part because it was the most-prolific tweeter, with 664 that week.
Of course, there are some caveats.
PEJ conceded that the study looks only at what news organizations and journalists disseminate, not whether or how they may be listening to Twitter conversations and using them to inform their reporting. (Although other research this year from RJI fellow Joy Mayer did find fewer than half of newsrooms often listen to the public through social media.)
Also, since the study looked at a single one-week period, it’s hard to judge any one organization or reporter based on the results. Perhaps an organization’s social media editor had that week off, or was experimenting with a new approach for one week only. Maybe one of the reporters happened to be on an assignment that didn’t lend itself to Twitter crowdsourcing.
In aggregate, though, the results paint a pretty clear picture: The average news outlet “generally takes less advantage of the interactive and reportorial nature” of Twitter, and is “not generally using Twitter to expand the conversation or include alternative perspectives and voices.”