Reflecting on Using Twitter as a Microblogging Service

Twitter was launched in July 2006 by friends Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone, and Noah Glass having been developed from idea that Dorsey had about an individual being about to communicate with others via an SMS service. The platform grew rapidly, going from 40,000 tweets per quarter in 2007 to 100 million tweet in 2008 and from 1,000 users in 2006 to 300,000,000 in 2011. Currently, the daily figures for tweets posted rests at 500 million which adds up to 200 billion tweets being posted every year. 

In recent years, Twitter has evolved into an effective service through which to gather news. The list of trending topics located at the left of the webpage allows users to see the top news stories, following journalists or news organisations (online only sites like the Huffington Post or BBC News as well the accounts for newspapers like The Guardian, The Telegraph or The Sun) allows users to receive all of their news in one place, and constant real time updates allow users to follow a story as it is unfolding. Twitter has also become a platform for citizen journalism, with big several stories being broken by ordinary members of the public. For example, the news that Flight 1549 had landed in New York City’s Hudson river was first broken on Twitter by eyewitnesses that had seen the plane come down.

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I began using Twitter in 2013 primarily so that I could keep up with entertainment news and engage with real time discussion surrounding reality television programmes. I enjoyed sharing my views on a programme and expressing to my followers what I liked and disliked about it, as well as searching a hashtag on a particular programme, for example I’m Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, and reading the real time reactions of others users. Often these were quite humorous which is what kept me coming back.

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This assignment meant a new direction for me in terms of Twitter use. Perhaps shamefully, I had never been very interested in following news accounts before and had instead preferred to see what celebrities were doing or thinking. But it has been very interesting being able to keep up with the news so closely and I feel a lot more informed about current events so I can actually have an opinion.

I began by following several big name news accounts, such as the Independent, and well-known journalists like Fay Schlesinger, head of news at The Times. Twitter’s recommendation service helped me quite a bit here as I wasn’t too aware of many news accounts or journalists to follow. By showing me accounts that were similar to the one I had just followed, it allowed me to build up a range of sources. I had to exercise some caution here however, I didn’t want to follow too many accounts with the same outlook otherwise I risked getting quite a biased view of the news. I made sure that I followed a range of accounts with different political and social viewpoints, for example The Guardian who are quite liberal and left wing, The Daily Mail which supports the Conservative Party and journalist Molly Crabapple who writes for Vice an institution which focuses on more underground stories, to get a range of viewpoints and opinions. Some of these were vastly different from my own but allowed me to see the other side of the argument and why people believe what they believe. I made of use of Twitter’s list function to organise some of these accounts which prevented their stories from getting lost on my feed.

I made frequent use of trending hashtags in my tweets in an attempt to maximise engagement. #Twitter10k was receiving nearly 600 tweets a minute on January 6th when I posted my Tweet and #occulusrift just over 500. 

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Data taken from Twitter analytics shows that whilst my tweets containing these two hashtags earned a fair few impressions, they were not engaged with at all. As you can see, this also occurred with my #fatcattuesday tweet. However, my other tweet where I gave an a longer opinion on Vice journalist Kitty Gray’s battle with an addiction to marijuana was met with three engagements. This suggests that a tweet will be met with more engagement if you really offer people a more detailed opinion. I stated how I felt and why, whereas in the others it was more simple. “Doesn’t #Twitter10k kind of defeat the object of twitter?” doesn’t really give people much to engage with but a longer opinion plus a link to the article, so that they can see my view and then read the article and gather information to agree or disagree with me, does. I If I was able to do this assignment again, I would try to include either a link or lengthier opinion in more of my tweets to give people a bit more to engage with.

An example of a hashtag positively affecting one of my tweets can be seen here:

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Although it got a low impression score, users did interact with it.

The importance of using hashtags was also highlighted in the polls that I posted.

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I didn’t receive any engagement in these either, even though I created both of them on the day that the respective stories broke, so using hashtags could have also helped here.

Searching through the different tweets that used the hashtag also enabled me to see what other users had to say about the trend. I would search by “Top” to enable me to see the most popular tweets with that hashtag, often these tweets had some extra information or something particularly poignant which was what made them so popular. For example, this heartbreaking article from Charles M. Blow about the Tamir Rice shooting in 2014.

I didn’t really choose any unifying theme for my retweets, they were any form of news that I found interesting or that was particularly influential. For example, the activities of IS and the ongoing refugee crisis.

In conclusion, I have read in the past that Twitter is one of most powerful tools a journalist can use for curating news and now, coming to the end of the assignment, I most definitely agree. This assignment has taught me how to effectively use Twitter in order to stay abreast of current affairs and how to correctly present my views and opinions for engagement with other users.



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