How magazines should use Twitter

February 25, 2009

Back in September, I wrote about Twitter and whether magazines should be using it. Since then, Twitter’s popularity has exploded and it’s become the latest on the list of must-haves for media properties – even if they don’t know what to do with it. The result? Instead of using Twitter to converse and build community, many are just updating with links to their sites – which seems to miss the point entirely.

Phillip Smith blogged the other day about how The Walrus has started using Twitter – and is doing it right. (You can follow them at

Their approach? Simple. Witty, upbeat, and personal. Fun banter with other publications on Twitter, like @thismagazine, @spacing, and @blogto. Engaging with the community, not broadcasting.

And Melanie McBride blogged on a similar topic today (and opened a discussion on Twitter). Her question: is it okay for magazines (or other publications) to publish RSS feeds through Twitter (i.e., automated updates)? Her conclusion is that conversational, human-powered Twitter posts are the ideal, but given many publications’ limited resources, RSS updates are a good interim solution. “While an RSS only feed is FAR from ideal,” she says, “it may function as a temporary means for publications to share their content in a new space while figuring out a strategy for more personalised feed management.” (Melanie has posted a poll on the subject – make sure to vote and share your opinion.)

My thoughts? Twitter is wonderful, and I’m having great fun (and some success) using it at work. It’s entirely powered by me, and while I do share some links to my site, I also share links to other sites that I think are relevant – but my primary goal is to have conversations with my target audience, and to hear what they have to say. I think Twitter’s especially useful for new magazines like Best Health, who are still focused on brand-building and getting their publication’s name out there.

However, just because Twitter is the cool tool on the block doesn’t mean you have to have a presence there. If you don’t think you have the time to use Twitter regularly – and it is a bit of a time suck – then you’re probably better off not doing it at all. I’ve said it before: the web is infinite, and there’s no way anyone can do everything. Spreading yourself too thin is the surest way to burn out and to fail. Choose the engagement strategies that work with your brand, your budget and your site goals, and do them well. If one of them isn’t working, cut it out of your schedule completely and try something else. Doing everything often turns out to mean doing nothing.

And if you do want to try Twitter, remember that it’s about sharing and communicating. I’m sure I’m not the only one who refuses to follow people or publications that do nothing but post links to their own site. I have an RSS reader for that – Twitter serves another purpose for me.

But tell me, what do you think? Have you tried Twitter for your brand? What are you doing, and how is it working? And Twitter users, do you follow Twitter accounts that are nothing but link feeds?


11 Responses to “How magazines should use Twitter”

  1. This is a really useful post! I am going to include it in my course bookmarks. And thank you for including me in the debate. I was thinking today about what Phillip and others have pointed out and I DO agree that a human powered twitter is the ideal because it allows publishers to create unique content and community engagement unique to that space – creating a special draw for that particular space and defining it as a different experience (i.e., twitter is not facebook, facebook is not twitter). In my experience users have their chosen spaces so it makes sense to cater to the participation behaviors those users expect from a particular space. That said, I will reiterate the importance of recognising the limitations (manpower and time) that are cited over and again by smaller publishers. RSS is a means of establishing a quick and easy presence, though it is NOT the goal. Two Twittering magazine examples: @runnersworld has a nice combination of human and RSS content. Huffingtonpost is the opposite – all RSS all the time. I have unsubscribed twice due to the spammy nature of their feed.

  2. Kristin Says:

    I control the twitter account for Geist magazine, we used Twitter to just send RSS feeds for months and months just to increase web traffice but I realize now that having conversations and sharing ideas with twitters is way more fun! I think its good to incorporate the RSS feed but have more of a human aspect to it.

  3. Kat Says:

    Thanks for the great replies. Melanie, interesting you like Runner’s World’s feed – I checked it out and it’s still too many links for me. I subscribe to their newsletters, I don’t need links from Twitter too.

  4. re; runnersworld. It’s brand loyalty. RW is the only magazine I currently subscribe to in print because it serves as an important motivational item in my living space (a reminder of my training goals). I appreciate coming across the odd headline/link amidst a steady stream of asynchronous conversations. Noise and signal are very subjective experiences. Personal banter can become as annoying as RSS spam. The key in all of this is balance (as you pointed out!) 🙂

  5. Mark Says:

    No RSS updates please. And abide by the 1 quarter rule — only 1 of every 4 tweets should point back to your own property. Otherwise subscribing to your feeds becomes an alternate proposition instead of an additive proposition.

  6. Graham Says:

    I think it’s really important that people who control Twitter accounts for magazines also keep their own personal accounts. It’s important that you understand how you yourself use the service, and what you like and dislike about the people you follow. Several times I’ve seen magazine twitter feeds used to tweet that someone is “going for a coffee” or “so tired today,” and it sends the wrong message. I keep a pretty firm division between the magazine’s account and my own, and any mundane “going for coffee” stuff is definitely personal.

    @thismagazine does pipe its RSS feed to Twitter, but we only post between one and three blog posts on any given day, and those are clearly marked so people don’t have to click if they’re not interested. So I don’t feel we’re overloading or spamming people (so far, no complaints). I also try to post a few outgoing links or retweets in the morning and again in the afternoon. It’s a mix, and if someone is receiving more than 8 to 10 tweets from us a day, I think that’s too many — because I know from using my peronal Twitter account that I dislike being bombarded like that.

  7. Kat Says:

    I think how personal the RSS feed is depends on the brand and the role of the person handling the Twitter account. “so tired today” wouldn’t be so off-topic for Best Health. 🙂 But you’re right, the person Twittering has to always stay conscious of Twittering for the brand, not for their personal reasons.

  8. Melanie Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Graham. I’ve seen a few mag tweets, not naming names, that became overly personal – where the person in charge of the publication was becoming self indulgent in their own self expression. It became clear who their friends are. And there was NO RSS. My own response to this is how disconnected the feed is from the publication. My entire reason for following the publication is the content they publish, not the social relationships between their interns/editorial staff and their friends in the industry. One of the benefits of having some items fed into the twitter is that people can start to have a conversation with the publication ABOUT those specific articles. I want to have conversations with publications about the content they’re publishing, their entity as a whole. When a magazine’s feed becomes a personal channel for its publishers/editors, it fails the purpose of serving the readers as a means of engaging that magazine as a whole.

  9. Patrick Says:

    Interesting article Kat! As a magazine aimed at 15-24 year old we’ve always been big users of social networks.

    We’ve had a Twitter page for nearly a year now but it’s really in the last month or so that it has taken off.

    I think it’s fine to use an RSS feed from the main site and what is interesting is we get a lot of comments on our stories via Twitter and I’d love to find a way to incorporate into our forum.

    Our editor also has a twitter page and that is something that can be used in a much more personal way.

  10. […] do, however, read about Twitter. I read the article “How magazines should use Twitter“, for example. Note that the title doesn’t question if a magazine should use Twitter, […]

  11. […] Smith on the value of followers & The Walrus’ Twitter Kat Tancock on how magazines should use Twitter Howard Rheingold on Twitter literacy September 11th, 2010 | Category: […]

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