The @nytimes ‘human voice’ experiment

The New York Times has embarked on something of an ‘experiment’ this week. They have uncoupled their RSS feeds from their Twitter account so no more automated posting and instead have replaced it with two ‘social media editors’ selecting and writing the tweets and also contributing to the conversation in the stream. This article gives the background to the idea and points out that the Wall Street Journal is already committed to using a human voice in their Twitter activity.

I’m a big fan of the Times Higher Twitter feed and think they have done a great job of creating something that is fun & friendly but also retains the trust that the publication has spent years building up – a tough balancing act but one I think they’ve done well.

I think this is interesting stuff – I’ve always been someone who saw the power of social media as something that required personality and that any automated content pushing felt wrong somehow and added little value. Over the last couple of years however it has become more and more obvious that it is rare to have the internal resources to be able to properly manage a Twitter account and so more and more organisations go down the ‘auto’ route. Including the last couple of organisations I’ve worked for.

At the moment I’ve started slowly adding a touch of humanity to our Twitter feed – making a few editorial choices for tweets amongst the RSS and doing the occasional RT or reply. The toughest thing is that with such a specialised, smart audience it is difficult for me to join in the conversations (beyond offering to pass questions on) as I don’t have the know-how (not being a bio-medical scientist!). I do think though given the relatively small amount we currently post that maybe I should turn off the RSS connect anyway and at least write appropriate, Twitter friendly links (and then I could track them better as well maybe?).

The thing is maybe things have changed? Twitter is a very different beast that it was in 2008/2009 – lots of people do seem to be using it as some kind of ‘feed reader’ these days – maybe that is all they want from it? Then again I guess I’ll never know til I change things up and see what happens – at least if there is a human behind the tweets someone can apologise and change it back 🙂

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