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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

We posted a piece this morning on one way The Times of London tried, without much success, to get its (hard-paywalled) content noticed by the non-subscribing world. The paper’s Ben Whitelaw just posted about another.

The idea here is that, with the paywall, the newspaper’s journalists have to do extra-heavy duty promoting stories in social media, because the general web audience can’t be counted on to do it on their behalf. So The Times built a simple tool that, when an important story is published, sends an email to Times reporters asking them to please retweet it:

Owning an story can be hard on social media when you operate a subscription model…We thought about how we could change this and realised that our best weapon was our journalists, each with their own network of followers and fans. But we were asking a lot to expect them to keep track of stories breaking on social media (especially when on deadline) so we knew we needed a way of making it easy for them…

[Developer Alex Muller] then created an HTML template to display a single tweet inside an email, and used Twitter’s Web Intents to add links to simplify the process for journalists and others to retweet — one click in the email, and then one confirmation click on to complete the action…

The result of using ‘The retweeter’ is that our big stories reach more people. For example, The Sunday Times Insight team had a big story on lobbying in Westminster which was retweeted by 30 people, most of whom were Sunday Times staff. Twitter analytics showed us that this tweet had reach three times greater than our usual tweets.

Bravo for figuring out a tool to simplify the process, although (a) 30 retweets for the lead Page 1 story for The Sunday Times still seems a little underwhelming, and (b) I imagine promotion by your own journalists, while valuable, can only go so far when your story itself is stuck behind a paywall.

— Joshua Benton
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  • benwhitelaw

    Thanks for your thoughts Joshua. Just to clarify, the goal of ‘The retweeter’ wasn’t to get more retweets but to get a higher percentage of our journalists retweeting, which I think is an important difference. Of the 30 retweets in the example above, over 50% were from Sunday Times staff, a much higher percentage than tweets with a similar number of retweets. Our theory which (we’re still testing) is that a retweet by a Sunday Times journalist to their followers (who has already declared an interest in what the journalist writes about by following them) is potentially more valuable than a normal retweet.

    Your point about people retweets only going so far is interesting because we actually see a strong conversion rate from social media via our teaser pages (which allow non-subscribers to read the first 3-4 paragraphs). This is why we are experimenting in this area: we’re keen to know whether getting more people to our subscription store from social media will drive subscriptions.

    If anyone has any further questions, do drop me a line. Thanks again

  • Pam Nash

    30 Retweets seems a little underwhelming?

    Infinitely better than 25 RTs – given that you’re not behind a paywall, you have more followers than the @theSundayTimes and you’re publicising a job to a huge American population.