Journalism student on Twitter? Show me the metrics

Twitter image by Shawn Campbell

Twitter image by Shawn Campbell

For at least four years now, all my online journalism assessments have involved a ‘strategy’ element, including a suggestion that students use analytics to demonstrate an understanding of their audience, and that they can experiment with search engine optimisation and social media optimisation.

This year I’m going further with one undergraduate class. I’m making social media analytics compulsory.

There are dozens of free tools out there to monitor your social media accounts. Here are just a few I’m recommending:

  • Twtrland shows how often you are retweeted, and what sort of tweets you post (replies, retweets, links, and so on). Along with Twitonomy it will also show how active you are, and who you engage with the most. Mentionmapp shows similar information in a network graph, and Vizify allows you to see what terms you are tweeting about most.
  • Twittercounter shows how your follower numbers have changed over a particular period, allowing you to overlay that with tweet volume or the numbers you are following.
  • Tweetlevel shows how engaged your account is (with scores for ‘influence’ and ‘trust’ among others) and what sort of role it plays (e.g. ‘amplifier’ or ‘curator’).
  •, Buffer and Hootsuite show how many people are clicking on your links, and when.
  • UPDATE: Glyn Mottershead suggests Twitter Grader.

All of these tools are to be taken with a pinch of salt (the judgements made by Tweetlevel are particularly arbitrary) but that’s not the point.

The journey, not the destination

Because what I’m looking for here are not scores, but rather the absence of them. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

In the space of just a couple of years we have moved from a situation where most students learned about Twitter solely as a journalism tool, to one where most students already use it as a personal one.

In that context, the challenge is changing behaviour from the personal to the professional. Students have 3 choices on this score:

  1. Create a separate ‘professional’ account and maintain both
  2. Delete the personal account and start a new, professional one
  3. Convert the personal account to a professional one

But getting students to engage professionally on social media – particularly with new contacts they don’t yet know – is still difficult.

Tweet distribution: 100% links

If all your tweets are links you’re just broadcasting

Making analytics a compulsory submission forces them to think about the metrics that are being used:

  • Am I engaging with a wider circle of people than my immediate friends?
  • Am I just broadcasting, or am I listening and responding too?
  • Am I just chatting, and not sharing?
  • Am I just tweeting my own links, or retweeting others?
  • Are people clicking on my links? Which ones, when and why?
  • What sort of role does Tweetlevel think I play, and why? (Just because it’s wrong doesn’t mean it’s not a useful tool for focusing your attention)

In other words, it forces them to reflect on practice, and identify the gaps in that.

Just to reiterate: I am not looking for high scores. I am looking for behaviour change.

talked with zero peopleTwtrland, for example, should show a mix of different types of tweets; Mentionmapp will show me whether they are talking to each other, or to new contacts; Twitonomy will show me whether they’re talking about topical issues, or their social life.

Twittercounter should show some sort of increase in followers as they focus their efforts – if there isn’t any, I’ll be looking to see why.

followers chart

A student’s twittercounter graph should show some sort of impact from their online behaviour on follower numbers – in this case, when they started the module

These are only tools providing signals for further investigation. They should not be taken in isolation. But they can help focus the mind, and by requiring students to submit the evidence, it gets them to see their accounts through other people’s eyes. Sometimes that can be the hardest thing.


9 thoughts on “Journalism student on Twitter? Show me the metrics

  1. Alessandro . I

    Just about none of my friends use twitter, even less like it, so I cannot see myself using it in anyway but professional. I do use Facebook in a personal manner – mixed with links and some professionalism – but do not find a need to make them separate on Facebook – partly because you can control who sees it to a certain extent and also because I don’t drink, take drugs or anything foolish etc so nothing to hide, this can also add a human touch to people’s often negative view on journalists, which if done right is a good thing and may even make it easier for people to contact/ express themselves to journalists which is ideal. Very useful post, twitter is different and can more easily build but also break a journalist if carelessly used – though they should know personal and private are different things just from the many celebrity faux pas in the past, most celebrities feel like they are walking on eggshells in twitter now.

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