Statesman taps tech toolkit in Ft. Hood shootings

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Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009 9:30 am

As the largest daily paper closest to Fort Hood, the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman used all the resources it had to cover the November shootings that killed 13 people and injured 30 others at the U.S. Army post.

Among the resources it used was Twitter, which has become a standard medium through which the paper covers breaking news stories, according to Robert Quigley, social media editor.

As the tragic developments from Fort Hood unfolded, the paper (daily, 140,602; Sunday, 173,404) created a Twitter account geared specifically to track events, he said.

"We were going to do something on Twitter either way but our editor Fred Zipp suggested that we make a separate account just for the shootings instead of using our normal Statesman account," Quigley said.

"I built the fthoodshootings account in a matter of minutes and started sending out tweets and promoted it by mentioning it on the Statesman's main account."

The fthoodshootings account went from zero to more than 3,000 followers within a few hours and was included in at least 140 Twitter lists created by individuals and news organizations covering the incident.

"We were posting rapid updates on the fthoodshootings account and sent off 130-plus tweets on the afternoon of the shooting," Quigley said. "Most of the tweets came from me and a reporter who was sent out to the scene with instructions on how to update it from Fort Hood."

The New York Times, Huffington Post, CNN and Los Angeles Times, among others, listed the fthoodshootings account in their lists that tracked the event.

Twitter began offering lists in early November. The feature gives users the option to aggregate content from selected Twitter accounts without having to sign on as a follower.

"I think those big heavy hitters, combined with everyday folk putting us on their lists, really multiplied our potential traffic because people can see what we were tweeting without following," Quigley said. "Twitter Lists really helped boost the visibility of the account and increased click-throughs on the story links without needing tens of thousands of followers."

The viral nature of Twitter helped further extend coverage as posts were re-tweeted, sometimes dozens of times.

The American-Statesman also shared breaking news with sister Cox publications the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, both of which linked to the American-Statesman's blog and

Twitter feeds.

The American-Statesman has been using Twitter since June 2008 when Quigley created the main account to till an online community.

The strategy went beyond merely using Twitter as an alternative to an RSS feed, Quigley said.

"We were one of the first to use it in the way we do where we interact with the community and talk at a personal level and not just spit out headlines," Quigley said. "People really took to the way we were doing it from the start and for a long time we were one of the top five most followed newspaper accounts."

Another one of the paper's popular Twitter accounts is Austin360, an entertainment news channel that has more than 10,000 followers and appears on 250 lists.

More than 60 American-Statesman staff members have Twitter accounts, most of whom post regular updates.

Quigley said the paper emphasizes Twitter not because it drives huge traffic numbers, but because it's a great way to market the newspaper and its reporters to a community that lays outside of its core demographic.

"People still care about what we have to say. We are relevant even in that segment of the population that a lot of people think doesn't care about newspapers - the young high tech crowd," he said. "They actually care about what we say, but we need to be in their space."

The paper also uses Twitter to corral content geared to Austin's active social scene, including coverage of the popular Austin City Limit Music Fest.

"We've had a lot of successes with Twitter and haven't really seen a huge downside yet. We're enjoying how it works and learning new ways to use it all the time," he said

TownNews.com ponies up to Twitter table

With more newspapers testing Twitter and Facebook, Web-hosting vendors are offering more services to help their customers more effectively use the social networking tools.

TownNews.com, for example, has seen an increase in calls from newspapers that want to add Twitter and other social media content on their Web sites, said Marketing Coordinator Kelly Hendershot.

"Some of our clients are customizing the look of their Twitter home page and taking the steps necessary to take their brand further," she said. "I sit in our customer support area and I hear a lot of phone calls coming in about Twitter, asking us how they can get content from their site to Twitter or how to get tweets posted on their site."

In response, TownNews.com crafted a way for its clients to post tweets - with links to relevant news stories - via RSS, Hendershot said.

In addition, the firm's Blox CMS has a mechanism that allows users to take Twitter feeds and post them on their Web sites. Papers can also allow their readers to find tweets through keyword searches.

"I don't think a lot of newspapers realize how easy it is to get content on social media sites like Twitter and Linkedin by just utilizing their asset feeds," Hendershot said.

TownNews embedded quick links to dozens of popular social networking sites as part of its core templating.

"It's handy especially if readers are really interested in a story and then adds it to their sites," she said. "We're always preaching that you have to get newspapers to be more interactive if they want to be the No. 1 source of information for their community."

 

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