Twitter Spaces: a how-to guide for newsrooms

Twitter’s new Spaces feature allows journalists to build a close connection with their audiences while expanding stories coverage. In a guest post for OJB, Catalunya Ràdio’s Carla Pedret shares her tips for using the platform.

 Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

Newsrooms face the dilemma of adapting to new platforms so often that it has its own name — the Shiny Object Syndrome. One of the latest in that long, long list of shiny new things for journalists to get to grips with is Twitter Spaces (TWS). Launched in December 2020, it’s a live audio chat streamed through the Twitter app — but should you be using it?

The first questions that anyone should ask before trying the platform are the same as with any new tool:

  • What kind of users has the platform? Are they an audience we want to connect with?  
  • How is the feature going to help us get closer to our goals?   
  • Have other media outlets used the tool? How? What were the results?   
  • Does the tool need to be updated frequently? How does it fit into the newsroom’s workflow?   

Asking those simple questions before deciding the next move is going to be a game-changer in your digital strategy.  

After some research and playing devil’s advocate, our team at Catalunya Ràdio decided to try it out. Our first Space was a conversation about the invasion of Ukraine. Manel Alías, our Moscow correspondent, and Albert Mercadé, our special correspondent to Ukraine, were coming back home — a great opportunity to share some insights and personal experiences beyond the daily headlines.  

It was mid-May and the invasion had been going on for some time. However, some of our top stories were about the conflict: a sign that our audience was worried.  

The experience of using Spaces exceeded our expectations — not just for the number of users connected and the questions raised, but also because our journalists were so engaged in the conversation that they didn’t want to stop. 

How to start a Twitter Space

TWS is useful if you’re looking to:  

  • Promote exclusive content or special coverage 
  • Build a new relationship with your audience 
  • Listen to your audience questions
  • Find new sources and ideas for stories

The strength of the feature is that it allows a close connection with the audience, which enhances engagement. “The power of Spaces is really in the audience,” says Matt Adams, Engagement Editor at NPR.  

“Seeing what they have to say, what questions they have, their thoughts and opinions, they become part of the story in a way”. 

I also wonder if part of its success is also the FOMO effect: users enter a room to listen to an “exclusive conversation” that might not be recorded or — if it is recorded — might not be accessible for a long time on the platform.  

Apart from the topics and your goals, it’s important to think about the formats. Some of the most used so far, according to Twitter, include:   

  1. Ask me anything (AMA) 
  2. Exclusive interviews
  3. Post-podcast or -show discussion
  4. Dispatches from the field 
  5. Q&A  
  6. Games or trivia

Organising a Twitter Space: allocating roles

Image by Vlad Hilitanu

Twitter Spaces functionality is organised around several roles: hosts, co-hosts, speakers and listeners.

The host has superpowers: she can open and close the microphone and is the only one who can finish the chat and expel users.  

The Twitter profile that opens the Space is automatically one of the hosts. I recommend having a second one in case the main host has any technical problem.  

Hosts can also create up to two co-hosts. These can do all the same things as the host, apart from add or remove co-hosts, and end the Space (unless the original host leaves the Space).

All users that connect with a Space start as listeners, guests included. Hosts can also make specific users in the Space into a speaker.

It’s convenient if the guests enter the Space first because it will be easier and faster for the hosts to change their status to speakers.  

The mechanism is the same when a listener requests to ask a question: the host should change the status from listener to speaker. Think about it just as opening and closing the microphones. 

Once the listener-speaker has raised her questions, the host can change their status back to listener, freeing up one of the speaker’s positions.

Twitter Spaces lets 10 speakers interact at the same time. It’s important not to have 10 guests because you want listeners to join the conversation. 

Twitter’s how-to guide to Twitter Spaces provides more information on creating and changing roles.

How long should a Twitter Space last?  

One of the advantages of Twitter Spaces is that there is no time limit. In our case, we gave our journalists the freedom to talk for as long as they wished. We had planned the conversation to take around 45 minutes, but our journalists and the audience were so engaged that it lasted 90 minutes.   

Although there are no time constraints, bear in mind that you need to allow time for users to discover the Space and join it, which means it can’t be too short.

According to our research, the minimum time recommended would be around 30 minutes.    

The best time to go live on Twitter

The more followers that are online, the better the time — but how do you know when your audience is connected?

If you have a Twitter Media Studio account, you will find an estimate there. From the top menu, click on Insights and then go to Audience. There, you’ll find a chart showing when your audience is most engaged. This is only an average, but it’s better than deciding the time blindly.  

If that link redirects to Twitter Create then you don’t have access to Media Studio. But you can still check your Twitter Analytics at analytics.twitter.com: switch to the ‘Tweets’ tab and export data in the upper right corner to see which tweets get the most engagement, and when that tends to be.

Repackaging audio content 

Image by Garrett Heath (CC BY 2.0)

One of the advantages of TWS is that you can reuse the conversation to produce additional content. 

NPR has used audio from Twitter Spaces to produce podcast episodes and as a source for new stories, Matt Adams, Engagement Editor at NPR says:

“I’ve worked in online communities for a long time and before you used to send out a survey to get feedback or ask members how we can better provide a service … To me, social audio is an in-real-time survey where we can gain feedback and hopefully reach new audience members.” 

Test, test and test 

TWS is easy to use but, as with any new feature, you have to understand how it works.  

At Catalunya Radio, before any Space, we do a test and invite the speakers to try the tool and get familiar with it.  

This proves to be key. In our first Space, some of the guests didn’t allow the Twitter App to connect with their phone’s microphone, which is essential to use the feature. Imagine if that happens when you are live and your guests can’t talk! 

Spread the word

You can open a Space and go live, or schedule it. Scheduling has the advantage you can promote the event beforehand by sharing the link. And users can set a reminder if they are interested.  

Once the conversation is going, you can increase attendance by tweeting out quotes or letting users know about the topic discussed or who is involved.  

Part of a digital ‘listening’ strategy

My newsroom was very pleased with the experience and we have included TWS as part of our digital strategy. There aren’t many opportunities in a newsroom’s workflow to receive feedback and have “real” contact with our audiences, so it was energising to find out what they think and wonder about.  

As the proportion of news consumers avoiding news grows, listening to our audience’s questions and needs might be a clue to reversing the trend. 

First published at Carlapedret.cat

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