Washington Post Sponsors Election Day Trending Topic on Twitter

It's a pretty safe bet that the election will be a hot topic on Twitter on Tuesday, and The Washington Post plans to capitalize on users' interest by sponsoring an election-related trending topic.

The Post's sponsorship of the term #Election means that it will appear at the top of the list of Trending Topics on Tuesday. When users click on that topic, one of the Post's tweets will appear above other tweets with the #Election hashtag -- giving the Post prime real estate to promote its coverage and updates.

By being the only news organization using Twitter this way, the Post could rise above the din of election-related conversation and draw more traffic to its website.

This is the first time a news org has used one of Twitter's "promoted products," according to Chloe Sladden, Twitter's director of media partnerships.

"Because the Promoted Trend is on the homepage of Twitter, the Post has the potential to lead the story cycle about the election on Twitter by maintaining a consistent presence," Sladden said in a written statement via e-mail.

"Their planned use of our Promoted Products platform to tell the unfolding story of the midterm elections -- breaking updates on races, voter calls-to-action, streaming video in the right-hand pane of new Twitter -- is perfectly aligned with readers who expect their news to be real-time, multimedia, and personally engaging."

A spokesperson with the Post confirmed the arrangement on Monday and said Twitter users will be directed to the Post's comprehensive election section. At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Post's top tweet sent users to its election overview; about 45 minutes later, it linked to a story about potential post-election repercussions for businesses that have worked closely with the Obama administration.

The Post also announced Tuesday that it will use New Twitter to host a live videocast by The Fix's Chris Cillizza, starting at 2:02 p.m. and lasting for an hour. The Post is soliciting questions from Twitter users using the #AskTheFix hashtag; Cillizza will answer them via the video.

"Through this experiment we're taking Post content directly to Twitter’s platform and engaging with users there. We're excited to see how people engage with our newsroom without ever having to leave Twitter," Katharine Zaleski, the Post's executive producer and head of digital products, said in a news release.

By sponsoring #Election, the Post could address a challenge for news orgs that use Twitter to promote their work. A news org can use a hashtag in a tweet to get its content in front of people searching for a particular term, but that tweet is just one of thousands -- or hundreds of thousands -- on a given topic.

The sponsorship enables the Post to differentiate itself, helping to call attention to its latest updates on Election Day, rather than relying on its followers or even comparatively slow e-mail alerts. Although any news outlet can use #Election, the Post's tweets will always appear above others, even those that are more recent.

Twitter has begun to use Promoted Trends and Promoted Tweets, both of which are labeled with a yellow "promoted" tag, to integrate advertising into its platform. A Promoted Tweet, for example, may show up at the top of Twitter search results for a particular topic.

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On Monday, @TeamCoCo, a Twitter account for Conan O'Brien's new show on TBS, sponsored the trending topic "#ConanShowZero." Tweets from @TeamCoCo appeared at the top of the stream of tweets related to that hashtag.

Twitter explains the difference between a Promoted Trend and a trending topic this way:

"The only real difference is that a Promoted Trend is marked as being promoted. Like all other Trending Topics, Promoted Trends are already popular subjects on Twitter, but may not have made their way into the Trending Topics list yet. If a topic doesn't already meet a minimum level of popularity on Twitter, it can't be a Promoted Trend."

It seems wise to try this approach on Election Day. As precincts start reporting results, some people will turn to Twitter for the latest news. The Post will be there. And earlier in the day, when news is light, people will use Twitter to talk about their experiences in the voting booth and who they support. The Post will be there, too -- perhaps turning some of those conversationalists into news consumers.

But will those people come back to the Post on Wednesday or the next day, when the Post publishes its midterm postmortems but hasn't paid to place itself directly in the gaze of millions of Twitter users?

As with any paid method of boosting traffic, from banner ads to Google search results, that's the magic question. And if the answer were certain, that sponsored position would cost a whole lot more than it does.

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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