by Kevin Anderson, on September 4, 2012
Millions of people around the world are using social media to connect not only with friends but also with news and information about their interests, and both journalists and non-journalists have tapped into this demand with specialist Twitter accounts that provide social media audiences with information that interests them.
In Saudi Arabia, Faris Al-Mutairi, who works as an accountant, set up the HashKSA account (short for Hashtag Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) almost two years ago to follow the most popular topics being discussed by digitally engaged Saudis. Hash refers to the # symbol used to highlight topics or conversations in Twitter. At the time of writing this article, HashKSA has more than 466,000 followers, and in an interview on ijnet, Al-Mutairi said that the account is the fourth most popular ”account on Twitter on the national Saudi level”. The account isn’t a commercial venture, but Al-Mutairi said they do “occasionally allow sponsored ads so we can use the revenue to develop the account and our site, as well as to develop smartphone apps”.
On a more local level, @InfoJakarta provides a wide range of information about the Indonesian capital, “including sports, traffic, music, and even daily motivational quotes”, according to Tech in Asia. After two and a half years, the account has attracted more than 260,000 followers, and founder Willy Jonathan said that they add about 400 every day. For the first two years, Jonathan ran the account himself but has since added a 6-person team to help administer the account. They do run sponsored tweets to help support the team of administrators.
Both Twitter accounts hold lessons for news organisations on how they can use social media services like Twitter to provide highly targeted feeds of information for audiences, how to manage such services and also how social media can be a way not only to broadcast news and information but also to gather reports from your audience.
Social is mobile
Both Al-Mutairi and Jonathan talked about the role that mobile plays both for the followers of their accounts and in how they manage them. Jonathan said that he chose to use Twitter because it was a very friendly medium for mobile, especially the Blackberry smartphone, which is popular in Indonesia.
In terms of the role of mobile in managing such accounts, Al-Mutairi of HashKSA said:
the secret of 24/7 presence is a team that works on specific time slots and on the go. That means monitoring during free and lost time on our smartphones. That has made our job a lot easier, we don’t have to be at a desk or on our laptops for too long, as some might assume.
The success of both accounts is, in part, down to their focus and paying attention to what their audience wants. For InfoJakarta, the account has a daily theme, similar to a radio call-in show. The theme, identified using a hashtag, gives followers a topic to discuss.
Al-Mutairi believes that his Twitter account provides a better service than newspapers because it is about what his followers want to read not what editors want them to read. He said:
Our account publishes what Saudis care about and want to read. So everything published finds great interest and acceptance, in complete contrast to newspapers…That is the essence of new media.
Build a community of contributors
Jonathan not only knows that he’s delivering information his followers want because of the popularity of the account but also because he “receives real-time information from (his) followers spread all over Jakarta”. It has allowed InfoJakarta to beat traditional media on breaking news several times, and Jonathan says InfoJakarta followers provide news everyday and are conscientious in making sure the information they provide is accurate.
One way they encouraged contributions from their followers is by occasionally asking them their opinion and then passing along, or re-tweeting as its called on Twitter, the interesting responses. Such interaction not only builds up followers, but it also helps prime followers to also be active contributors.
Use social media for insights about your audience
Jonathan said that the followers of InfoJakarta are “primarily university students and young executives living in Jakarta”, and that comment reveals what might be one of the most under-appreciated benefits of using social media. You can find out a lot about your audience through their profiles. and the benefit is not limited to Twitter. If you use a Facebook page, once you reach more than 30 fans, Facebook delivers a comprehensive overview of the demographics of the fans of your page. This can be important when you’re pitching to advertisers. Advertisers often want to know what kind of audience you can deliver, and social media gives you insights that before would have required surveys or market research to obtain.
These two accounts highlight some of the great opportunities that social media delivers in terms of providing information to your audiences and also cultivating potential contributors in your community. Building a trusted network of contributors in your community helps make sure you get the story first and deliver it first to your audience. This kind of engagement strategy also builds loyalty in your audience by providing them with the news and information that they want and need, and also by building a deeper connection with them. These examples also provide a warning against complacency: If you don’t embrace this opportunity, someone else will.