Microblogging and Me: An Aspiring Journalist’s Adventures in the Twittersphere
As an aspiring journalist, Twitter is a great tool for sharing content. Succinct reports, musings, information and ideas can be put to followers instantaneously, with the potential for your words to reach far and wide if they strike a chord with people. In this post, I will discuss the pros and cons of microblogging on Twitter, along with some of my own experiences using the platform.
A relatively new mode of communication, the term ‘microblogging’ is defined by Merriam-Webster as “blogging done with severe space or size constraints typically by posting frequent brief messages about personal activities”. Twitter is a prime environment for microblogging, where users can compose posts with a 280-character limit, covering anything, from what they had for breakfast, to the latest from parliament.
There’s several upsides to microblogging on Twitter:
A 2020 study found that Twitter has over 330 million active users.
The number of frequent users of Twitter shows the potential that aspiring journalists have to create a large, widespread network and following.
Easy to interact with your audience
Twitter makes interaction between composers and recipients of tweets incredibly simple. The mention feature is particularly useful for direct contact, as you can directly address other users in your tweets.
In social media, the way in which you manage interpersonal interactions is as important as the content that you publish, and the dialogue takes place in novel formats (such as comments, discussion pages, ratings, or tags) that reconfigure the relationship between interactive participants in varying ways.
The potential for direct interaction can contribute to a better understanding of, and relationship with, your audience. This, in turn, can boost engagement with your profile. Today, interactivity is imperative for increasingly active audiences.
Twitter is ideal for accommodating active audiences, as they are able to negotiate media texts directly through the platform. This is important, as audiences today value the opportunity to interact and engage with the narrative presented to them, rather than just receiving and accepting the preferred reading.
From my own experience on Twitter, I find the potential to discuss topical issues and invite meaningful conversation very exciting. Below is an example of a discussion between myself and another Twitter user (@numblebeedc) about the topic of censorship — a prime example of an active, participatory audience member engaging with my writing.
The concept of ‘microblogging’ on Twitter encourages short, concise posts of the most recent updates, particularly when following and covering current affairs.
“…real-time narration found most prominently in social-network sites like Facebook and Twitter favors present-tense or non-finite verb forms, creating an ongoing sense of an ever-present “now” that bridges the asynchronous gap between the time of narrative production and narrative reception.”
The infatuation with staying completely up-to-date is widely recognised, so much so that BBC have a Twitter page dedicated entirely to providing the latest breaking news (@BBCBreaking).
‘Livetweeting’ is also a common phenomenon amongst Twitter users, who post consistent updates and opinions, providing a form of commentary on another media text, generally occuring at the same time.
Keeping your finger on the pulse is important for any journalist. However, microbloggers on Twitter must be prepared to go above and beyond to provide the most recent information if they are to attract engagement. If they are able to, the pay-off is immense.
However, there are things that aspiring journalists should be aware of when venturing into the Twittersphere:
Most tweets go unnoticed
Even with a large following, it can be difficult to receive engagement on your content.
The #1 most-followed account in the world is Katy Perry, and her tweets receive an average of around 25,000 bits of engagement, combining likes and retweets but ignoring replies. With 82 million followers, that means she has an engagement rate of .0003%.
A 2010 study found that 71% of tweets go unnoticed. Although there are obvious factors that may contribute to a lack of engagement (lack of followers, tweet length, content of tweets, etc.), there is no conclusive evidence on why exactly it’s so difficult to get users to interact with your tweets, and it’s likely to be a combination of several factors. Ultimately, it’s difficult to be seen amongst hundreds of millions of other users, likely wanting to be seen too.
Due to the previously mentioned thirst for the most up-to-date information on Twitter, stories often reach no solid conclusion or outcome, or are simply not of interest anymore at the point that the story concludes.
For its part, although a Twitter timeline may release updates or “breaking news” episodically over time, the narrative story line of the archived sequence may not reach a final outcome (in the sense of a final, evaluative point of closure or resolution) but simply report “what happened next,” switching topics abruptly as more newsworthy reports become available.
Continuity is not always achieved, as public interest has moved elsewhere. However, this can be frustrating for some audience members, who feel that the coverage is somewhat incomplete. For the writer, it’s a difficult balance between covering the most recent and relevant information, and tying up any loose ends from previous coverage.
The 280-character limit on tweets is ideal for providing digestible content to audiences and maintaining their attention. However, the limit can be frustrating when trying to articulate more complex or profound ideas and topics — a frustration that I have experienced first-hand many times:
Although the character limit can be positive, in that it forces the tweet’s composer to make their points succinctly and effectively, some things just can’t be expressed compellingly in 280 characters.