HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The Atlantic redesigns, trading clutter and density for refinement
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
May 29, 2014, 10:37 a.m.
Audience & Social
NPR_HQ-cc

It’s alive! What NPR learned from turning its @nprnews Twitter account from a bot into a human

Putting a person at the controls increased traffic and engagement by just about every measure. Now the question becomes: Is that boost worth the extra human effort?

May 22 was World Goth Day! To celebrate, NPR’s main Twitter account, @nprnews, sent out a tweet to its 2 million-plus followers sharing a 2013 NPR story on Goth Barbie. It earned 156 retweets — among the highest of anything NPR shared that day.

On a normal World Goth Day, NPR wouldn’t have sent that tweet, because its Twitter account is typically automated with an RSS feed of NPR stories. But last week, it ran an experiment by manually controlling the Twitter account during business hours.

How’d it go? During the five days of manual updating, there were 142,219 visits to NPR’s website from @nprnews tweets — a 45 percent increase from the average (98,213) of the five weeks leading up to the experiment, according to NPR’s Google Analytics data. Links tweeted by @nprnews were clicked on nearly 100,000 more times than links shared automatically the week before, information from its bit.ly account revealed. And the account gained 5,010 followers — about 14 percent more than the week before.

Lauren Katz, an NPR intern turned temp, led @nprnews during the weeklong test. The week before, she ran a smaller experiment of sorts by manually tweeting a handful of stories at night after they’d been tweeted out by the RSS feed earlier in the day. The tweets she wrote out received more engagement across the board, inspiring the longer trial.

At the beginning of the week, Katz sent out tweets every eight to 10 minutes. Later in the week, she lessened the pace to only once every 20 minutes. During the trial, she sat near The Two-Way, NPR’s breaking news blog, in order to more effectively tweet out breaking news as it occurred. And though Katz was able to schedule some of the tweets ahead of time, she said managing the account, at least early in the week, “meant that I didn’t leave my desk, basically,” as she tweeted out nearly every story NPR published, up to 100 stories daily, at least once.

“Throughout the whole week that I was livetweeting, I was doing all the other social media for NPR News. I was still posting to Facebook manually, doing our Tumblr posts, pinning on Pinterest,” Katz told me. “So the rest of social media didn’t stop, and I found it really hard to write human tweets and keep up with everything else I was doing. I did it, and we were there all week, but it takes more manpower if we want to continue it.”

And that’s manpower that NPR might not have, even though the experiment was successful in increasing engagement. Including Katz, there are three people on NPR’s social desk, but Katz is likely leaving the network when her contract expires next month, meaning the desk will be spread thinner. Though they haven’t yet decided how to implement what they learned from their week of manually controlling Twitter, NPR social media strategist Melody Joy Kramer said she’s considering a few ways to have increased human control over @nprnews without it becoming an overwhelming burden.

Some news organizations, like The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, maintain manual control of their Twitter accounts around the clock with social media staffers spread across the world. That’s not something NPR has the capacity for, but it does have a news desk staffed 24/7, and the team that produces Morning Edition arrives at work in the wee hours as well — many of them already tweeting from their personal accounts, Kramer noted.

“The question is what can people take on additionally to what they’re doing. I think when you’re doing radio, it’s a lot more time consuming than when you’re at a print publication because you have to edit the audio,” Kramer said.

At a large legacy news organization, still focused on producing news for the radio, making changes like that can be a slow and arduous process. But since Kramer assumed her current role last year, she’s made a push to make social media and digital analytics a larger focus at NPR. Just last month, she helped oversee the release of an analytics dashboard to better inform the newsroom on how it can reach its audience.

To that end, @nprnews also retweeted more NPR journalists’ own tweets and tweets from other NPR shows or desks. How individual NPR reporters use Twitter has received more attention of late as NPR media reporter David Folkenflik unleashed a torrent of tweets in the wake of Jill Abramson’s firing from The New York Times. Vox created a Storify of Folkenflik’s tweets that it published on its own website, and the whole episode sparked a debate both within and outside NPR on whether it was best for Folkenflik to tweet out information like that instead of posting it directly on NPR’s website.

“We had a few discussions about it, and the sentiment was we want our news to travel out and we want our reporters to be seen as experts in the field. And a lot of times you see news organizations picking up tweets from other reporters or citing other things, and Vox cited David appropriately and they linked back to his tweets,” Kramer said. “I was totally for that and would love to see other news organizations do that with our stuff in the future.”

But no matter how individual NPR staffers tweet, having a human being control the main NPR Twitter account created an opportunity for more interaction with the account’s followers to potentially allow them to engage with NPR content. Katz and Kramer said the feedback they received — both positive and negative — was helpful in figuring out how to best serve their Twitter followers. And they wanted followers to know there really was a human behind the account:

Photo of NPR headquarters by Eric Langhorst used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     May 29, 2014, 10:37 a.m.
SEE MORE ON Audience & Social
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The Atlantic redesigns, trading clutter and density for refinement
It wants to be a “real-time magazine” on the web, connected to its print heritage. But stripping out the visual noise won’t please everyone.
Getting beyond “public radio voice”: Finding and decoding identity on the air
Public radio voice or public radio voices? Figuring out how different identities fit together on the airwaves is a challenge for many journalists.
Newsonomics: The Wall Street Journal is playing a game of digital catchup
Its newly launched redesign isn’t just about aesthetics — it’s a chance to look inside the business and strategic thinking at America’s business daily.
What to read next
2439
tweets
The Economist’s Tom Standage on digital strategy and the limits of a model based on advertising
“The Economist has taken the view that advertising is nice, and we’ll certainly take money where we can get it, but we’re pretty much expecting it to go away.”
579What USA Today Sports learned covering the Final Four on Periscope and Snapchat
These new platforms are optimized for realtime news on phones, but there are lots of questions for news organizations — from what content to share to how to measure their effectiveness.
366The Winnipeg Free Press is launching a paywall that lets readers pay by the article
Are you one of those who’s argued an “iTunes for news” model could rebuild newspapers’ business model? Look to Canada for a paper that’s going to give it a go.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Chi-Town Daily News
MediaBugs
Salon
Publish2
Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism
The New Republic
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Mozilla
Drudge Report
The Blaze
Storify
Gannett