An interview with James Edge, the web and social media editor at the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Rome. Previously with FAO, he now runs the @ifad twitter accounts. James also authored the IFAD Communications Toolkit.
Why is Twitter important to journalists?
Twitter is a window to what is happening in the world in almost real time. It can provide a useful way to find out what is happening and share information quickly. Unlike most other social platforms, you do not even need to be following the person to see the messages.
How about specifically when reporting on disasters?
Twitter is a really useful tool for giving and receiving real-time information about disasters and relief efforts. During Covid-19 pandemic we have seen an incredible amount of information being shared from across the globe. The key is to make sure you are following the right people and sharing the right messages.
When engaging on Twitter, you follow a rule of threes. Could you tell us about that?
For a Twitter account for be interesting for people to engage with and follow, it is good to follow the rule of threes:
One third of your activity is PROMOTION – sending out tweets and created content from your account.
One third of your activity is SHARING – retweet and like other people’s posts that are relevant to your account.
And one third of your time is NETWORKING – chat and interact with other users. Ask and answer questions.
You recently organized a successful Twitter chat for UN Food Systems that resulted in thousands of new followers. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Twitter chats are where you dedicate around 40 minutes asking questions for followers to answer. It provides a good way for people to interact on a particular issue – with an interested audience.
You can reach out to selected organisations and individuals in advance with the questions in order for them to join in.
What other tactics have proven successful for you on Twitter?
Keep messages simple. A tweet should have one simple message.
Avoid using jargon, lesser known acronyms, abbreviations.
Add an image to your tweets. Tag up to 10 people in the image.
Infographics: Use of simple graphics to share information about the crisis – such as contact numbers or safe behaviour.
Write content specifically for each social media account. Do not automatically cross post from Facebook to Twitter or whichever network. For example, don’t share a link to an Instagram photo – no one wants to leave Twitter to view a photo in another app, and if they are not on Instagram are unlikely to click at all.
Upload short videos. The limit is 2:20 for videos uploaded directly to Twitter. But if you do you will have many more views than linking to another source.
Create Twitter Lists. Twitter lists allow you to group accounts around a particular topic. You can then view the Tweets from those List members. For example, create a group for NGOs in Zambia.
Hashtags: can we ever use too many?
Use hashtags, but use them sparingly – one or two per post. Hashtags allow people to find your content and links your content to similar posts. Think about whether people will be searching for the hashtag. Search for the # before you tweet to see what type of results are shown. Some hashtags are used consistently for topics – #SDGs #FoodSecurity etc.
Try to standardise your use of hashtags: For example, a disaster name hashtag, a public reporting hashtag and an emergency response hashtag.
A useful resource: Hashtag standards for emergencies
Any final thoughts?
Be sure to check for fake news.
- Vet the publisher’s/writer’s credibility. Follow and share from reputable sources. Check the source of original articles and news items.
- Pay attention to quality and timeliness.
- Check the sources and citations. Read beyond the headlines!
- Google it. If you Google Fake dolphins Venice – you will see that dolphins weren’t spotted swimming in Venice’s canals, but it was a made up story.
- Ask the pros. There are a number of fact check websites, such as https://www.factcheck.org/.