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3 Awesome Twitter Tactics That’ll Help You Report Better Stories

By Susan Johnston Taylor August 24th, 2016

If you’re on Twitter, you already know it can be a great place for freelance writers. It’s an easy way to network with editors and writers of all stripes, keep up with the latest news, and share your most recent article. As a result, it’s become a key tool for many freelancer’s careers.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone is using Twitter to its full potential. In fact, there are a lot of under-the-radar techniques that even the savviest freelancers may not know.

Here are three of the best.

1. Find work with advanced search

Niketa Patel, Twitter’s news partnerships manager, emphasized a feature during a recent SABEW (Society of American Business Editors and Writers) tele-training event that’s relevant to pretty much anyone: Twitter’s advanced search. Instead of searching by keyword or hashtag, you can narrow your search by geolocation or date, or look for tweets by specific users or mentioning specific users. No more endless scrolling looking for that perfect tweet you swore you saw a few days.

More importantly, advanced search can also help you find work. Sometimes, editors desperately need good pitches—and they’ll take to Twitter to source them.

For instance, the editor of San Antonio magazine tweeted (with her email address!) out a call for pitches in April, an ESPN editor tweeted a call for pitches in May, and an editor at The Frisky did the same in July. Here are a couple more taken from retweets on The Freelancer’s Twitter account:

But how do you find these editors and tweets in the overwhelming cascade of content that is Twitter? That’s where advanced search can come in handy.

Experiment with different combinations of words and phrases like “send me” AND “freelance pitches” or “pitch me” AND “tech stories,” depending on your beat.

After you find a few combinations that work for you, you can save your search in Twitter or create a column in a tool like Tweetdeck to stay on top of new tweets that fit your search terms. That way, you’ll be first in line next time an editor sends out a call.

2. Find story ideas with notifications and lists

Another relatively unknown Twitter feature is the ability to turn on mobile notifications for when particular Twitter users tweet. It may be a pointless feature for most, but for freelance journalists who want to keep on top of the latest news, it can be a godsend.

After all, presidential candidates, rock stars, executives, and celebrities sometimes make some of their biggest announcements via Twitter.

If you want to be the first to know when Taylor Swift or the CEO of a company in your beat tweets, turn on notifications and your phone will ping you. That gives you the chance to pitch breaking stories or stay on top of trends, which can be a big advantage in an era where speed often counts as much as content when it comes to reporting news. (Be sure to use this one judiciously, though, or your phone will be constantly buzzing and beeping.)

Twitter can also be helpful for more casual brainstorming. Personally, I create lists of experts and players in the beats I cover—scrolling through those lists looking for trends or new ideas can be an excellent way to get the pitches flowing.

3. Find better sources with advanced search

Twitter can be a treasure trove for finding sources, particularly the “man on the street” type source that may be difficult to find for freelancers based in remote locations.

Daniel Victor, a senior staff writer at the New York Times, shared this tip for finding these people on Twitter: Include first-person pronouns like “I” or “my” in your search. That can help you pinpoint people who are not just tweeting about a current event or issue, but are actually involved in the event personally. You can then use the advanced search feature described above to find sources in a specific geographic area.

I used Victor’s strategy for a story published earlier this year to find an American who’d tweeted his frustration over the Volkswagen recall, and how it had foiled his plans to import his car into Canada for business school. He wanted to get Volkswagen’s attention, so he agreed to be interviewed. It helped round out my story.

You can also just tweet out a call for sources. I’ve tweeted about needing everything from teachers to discuss financial literacy in the classroom to budget-travel experts. Make sure to tag pertinent people so that your tweet gets maximum exposure.

Occasionally, I’ll temporarily pin that tweet so it’s the first thing people see when they visit my profile. And if you want to make it really easy for potential sources to contact you, you can opt in to receive direct messages from everyone (though be wary that these can open you to many unwanted contacts).

Some freelancers feel that Twitter is a black hole of mindless chatter. For some, that may be true. But with these techniques in your back pocket, you shouldn’t be one of them.

Image by Creative Commons/Twitter
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