Thursday, February 26, 2009
How magazines should use Twitter

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?

- Kat Tancock
About Me
Kat Tancock
Kat Tancock is a freelance writer, editor and digital consultant based in Toronto. She has worked on the sites of major brands including Reader's Digest, Best Health, Canadian Living, Homemakers, Elle Canada and Style at Home and teaches the course Creating Website Editorial at Ryerson University.
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