NY Times puts real people behind Twitter feed as “experiment”

If you have followed The New York Times Twitter feed you will know that until now it has been an automated one much like many other publications, but that’s now changed — at least temporarily.

As Poynter reports The New York Times has replaced its main automatic feed this week with two real people, in social media editors Liz Heron and Lexi Mainland, as an experiment.

It makes so much sense particularly when as a media brand you have 3.2 million followers although they stress it is an experiment and that it might return to its automated ways.

It would be a shame if it did. Rather than post bland auto tweets you get hand written tweets, which can use hashtags, engage with readers.

The move sees the @nytimes follow rival The Wall Street Journal @WSJ, which has people working on its account for a while. Although its account @WSJ account lags its rival by a few million with 854,493 followers.

In the UK papers like The Guardian with its 113,836 followers, the Telegraph (38, 5111 followers) and The Times (only 19,173 followers) already do the same.

What works for newspapers work for brands. What is the point in an automated feed? It doesn’t allow you to pick and choose and it doesn’t allow you to share the most engaging content or respond. No one bothers to respond to automated accounts and so it is difficult to tell what kind of engagement it will get, but you have to imagine it would be pretty high.

While The New York Times has no problem with follower numbers I wonder if it would (or any other automated account) have more if it were more engaging on a permanent basis. The answer is almost certainly yes. The 3.2 million figure is an achievement in itself although it is some way behind CNN’s @cnnbrk account with its 4.3 million followers, which is also run by a real person.

Heron told Poynter that the experiment was about changing the perception and finding the most engaging content. She said it had not previously been part of its strategy and that the paper “have a staff in place to have someone on the main Twitter account full-time”.

From what the piece says the reason the NY Times does not have someone looking after it generally is because of resource. It has three editors spread over social media and community activity and there is no doubt they are busy.

Heron says that the NY Times future strategy in relation to Twitter will take some discussion and “poring over the numbers of replies, retweets, link clickthroughs and general feedback”.

It is another sign that news organisations have not yet fully worked out how best to resource social news. A Twitter editor though could be a start: surely an audience as large as that requires it?