News outlets test a new Twitter strategy

Instead of allowing Twitter to populate a post with its own data, some news outlets are manually uploading images to their Twitter posts. Is the benefit worth the extra work?

When tweeting, communicators only add an image if it’s explicitly called for.

For example, if we’re commenting on a facepalm by the White House chief of staff during a speech by the president, it makes sense to include the priceless picture.

Yet, for the vast majority of content, most users don’t think in visual terms. Instead, the link is tweeted out along with some text—and that’s it. Many major websites allow their links to automatically unfurl, thus providing a preview of the link without having to click on it. (This preview includes the headline, a one-sentence excerpt, and a cropped image.)

For most people, this process is good enough—and easy enough. Yet, three news outlets tweet a different way. Instead of allowing auto preview to do its thing, these publishers—@Mashable, @NRO, and @Slate—prefer to override the default settings and manually specify the picture for each tweet.

Consider this recent article from Slate. Here’s what an auto-previewed tweet looks like:

And here’s the same article, tweeted with a manually published image:

Notice the difference? Sure, the image is the same, but look closely and you’ll see that the former displays the headline twice—first in the actual tweet text, and then again in the auto preview. For publishers, that’s a sloppy mistake they want to avoid.

By contrast, the latter hides the auto preview, thus allowing Slate to employ its excellent headline without repetition. That’s sharp.

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There are a couple of drawback to the Mashable/NRO/Slate approach:

  1. Manually adding an image is tedious, especially if you’re tweeting dozens of times a day.
  2. The second tweet suffers from a poor interface. On the first tweet, auto preview renders a large segment of the overall message clickable—everything from the top of the image down to the gray domain at the bottom (“slate.com”). With the second tweet, you get only a few characters—the blue hyperlink—to click.

Like most things in life, going the John Henry route and thumbing your nose at automation is a trade-off. What you gain in the power of a proven headline, you lose in user-interface design.

The headlines that Slate crafts for each article are cleverly written and thoroughly optimized. (As they should be, given this roundtable discussion by five editors on the subject, this indispensable reflection by writer Will Oremus, and this best-hits compilation by writer Paul Smalera.)

Thus, recycling these titles makes sense from both a marketing viewpoint and a time-management one. Why spend energy rewriting a headline when the existing text works brilliantly? As our pre-social-media ancestors might point out, technology should enable us to work smarter, not harder.

What do you think, PR Daily readers? Which strategy is best?

Jonathan Rick is the president of the Jonathan Rick Group, a digital-marketing agency in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter at @jrick.

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