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The Use of Twitter by America’s Newspapers

Twitter was seemingly everywhere in 2009, with sports stars, celebrities, politicians and journalists using the micro blogging platform to promote everything from themselves to their employers to the issues they advocate for.    After several years of assessing the general online presence of the top 100 U.S. newspapers, this year we decided to produce a study specifically about how newspapers and journalists are utilizing Twitter as a way of promoting their content and interacting with readers. Frankly, this was a daunting task.  There are thousands of newspaper-related Twitter profiles, from official accounts of the paper overall to more personal profiles maintained by individual journalists.  Given the pure volume of accounts, we decided to closely analyze 300 profiles from the top 100 newspapers in the country as a way of getting a sense, in aggregate, of how the media is utilizing Twitter.  Among the things we look at in the study are whether newspapers link to their Twitter accounts from their website, how often, and in what manner, the accounts are updated, and whether newspapers are using their Twitter profiles to interact with readers or to simply promote their site content. While the study isn’t perfect, the results provide a compelling jumping-off point for additional thought and discussion.  Following are some key findings and a link to the full study. Top Line Stats

  • We were able to find multiple Twitter accounts for all of the top 100 newspapers using common sense searching techniques. However, only 62% of the newspapers included links to at least one of their accounts from their website. In many cases, these links were buried on the site and difficult to track down. In addition, this means 38% of the newspapers are actively using Twitter, but haven’t yet integrated their presence with their website in even a minimal way.
  • 56% of newspapers maintained a directory of their Twitter accounts on their website. This directory from the Los Angeles Times is a good example of the form these listings usually took. Many of these directories were quite extensive, listing dozens of accounts.
  • Of the 300 Twitter profiles we looked at in depth, the average account had 17,717 followers and followed back 1,470 other users. However, if you remove the four accounts we looked at that had over 100,000 followers, the average number of followers drops to a much more modest 3,447 users.
  • The Twitter profiles of the newspapers send out an average of 11 tweets per day. Tweet frequency varies from 1.1 (The Boston Globe's Big Picture, The Denver Post's Woody Paige, and The Akron Beacon Journal) to 95.5 tweets/day (The Boston Herald).
  • 51% of Twitter accounts were updated primarily through Twitter’s web interface. The next most popular method with 28% was Twitterfeed, which is a service that automatically posts updates to Twitter accounts via RSS feeds. The remaining 21% of accounts were updated via a variety of other Twitter tools such as Tweetdeck and Hootsuite. This indicates that the vast majority of Twitter accounts (around 70%) are updated by staff members as opposed to a simply being an automated feed.

Replies and Retweets While these core statistics are interesting, we wanted to take things further and see how exactly the Twitter accounts were being used. Were the accounts simply linkbots highlighting newspaper content, or were they being used to by the paper to hold a conversation with its readers? Were newspapers simply talking, or were they listening, too? Some key findings on this front:

  • Many of the accounts we looked at rarely if ever interacted with other users by replying to tweets. Indeed, 33% of the accounts we looked at replied to users in less than 1% of their tweets. 15% of the accounts we looked at had never replied to another users tweets. This suggests that these papers are rarely reading or reacting to the updates of people they follow.
  • On the positive side, 37% of newspaper accounts we looked at replied to users in more than 10% of their tweets. 5% of accounts replied to other Twitter users in over 50% of their tweets.
  • Similarly, many of the accounts we looked at rarely retweeted other users. 43% of the accounts we looked at retweeted others in less than 1% of their tweets. 23% of the accounts we looked at never retweeted another user during the time period we considered.
  • 16% of the Twitter accounts we looked at retweeted other users in more than 10% of their tweets.

Please also check out this post, which goes into detail about Twitter IQ, our ranking of the level of interactivity of the Twitter accounts. The Full Study The full study is available for download here and is also embedded below for your convenience.  You can also view the back up data for the study at the URLs below:

We would love for readers to use the data as a jumping off point for additional analysis, and just ask that you reference The Bivings Group in whatever you produce. The Use of Twitter by America's Newspapers

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