Twitter bird
Credit: By shawncampbell on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Last week, @FT reached 1 million followers, so we spoke to the Financial Times communities editor, Sarah Laitner, to get some advice on providing the best experience for readers and the organisation.

1. Write in clear language

This may seem obvious, the need to be clear and concise is a given for journalists especially when dealing in 140 characters, but it is not always so simple.

"Try to make tweets as straight forward as possible," Laitner told via email, "using @ mentions and hashtags only when they provide context."

At's digital journalism conference news:rewired in September, BBC News's social media editor Chris Hamilton highlighted the difference between a tweet from the BBC and another from Sky Sports News announcing Alex Ferguson's retirement.

Hamilton said the tweets were sent at "exactly the same time" but that Sky Sports received thousands more retweets, despite having far fewer followers. The difference?

"It's the subclause, it's the other Twitter handle that most people won't know, it's the link, it's the hashtags, it's the length," said Hamilton. "It's just simply less retweetable, it's less engaging as a tweet."

The more straightforward tweet from Sky Sports News was more effective because it was a simpler, more consumable snippet of the news that people could digest and share far more easily.

2. Post at the right times of day
It sounds simple, but tweet at times when you know readers, both in the UK and overseas, are onlineSarah Laitner, FT

"It sounds simple," Laitner said, "but tweet at times when you know readers, both in the UK and overseas, are online so they see what you write."

Depending on your niche or target audience, some tweets may be going out into the void and missing their intended readers entirely so it makes sense to know when your followers are online.

There are numerous Twitter analytics platforms available, a quick search will attest to that, but two tools which have a particular focus on when a Twitter user's followers are online.

For $4.99, the developers behind will analyse your followers and provide a report detailing the best times of the day to tweet. Tweriod serves a similar purpose and delivers a graph as a snapshot of followers for free, but users will have to pay if they want their full Twitter base analysed.

3. Have different voices on your feed

Laitner regularly confers with others around the newsroom to get a different tone into the tweets that @FT sends.

"Ask colleagues across the newsroom to suggest stories and wording for tweets," she said. "This keep things fresh and broadens the scope of the feeds."

In the same way as getting a second opinion on a story or adding variety to the tone and pace of feature writing, integrating different voices into an account can spice things up for both the journalist and audience.

4. Use images

The use of images in social media is a regular piece of advice from social media managers – they catch the eye better than text and can tell some stories more quickly – and Laitner recommended infographics, photos and charts as some of the best images.

"We amend some graphics for use on social media," she added, "and it's worth experimenting to see what works for your feeds."

Although you may have a high definition picture or infographic that looks incredible on desktop or in print, it may not look as good on Twitter or on a mobile, where more and more social media users are coming from.

Readers seem to enjoy hearing what we are thinkingSarah Laitner, Financial Times
5. Give an occasional peek into your newsroom

"Readers seem to enjoy hearing what we are thinking," Laitner said, "and it's fun to give insights every so often about what's going on."

When Twitter launched it was heralded as giving an insight into the private lives of the rich and famous and, although it has now taken on more practical applications, a little behind-the-scenes information is always popular with readers.

6. Look at the way you use your feeds

In the same way that different topic channels can attract different readers for different reasons, having a variety of Twitter accounts can offer people a different type of experience on social media.

"We have two flagship accounts," Laitner said, "@financialtimes takes headlines, for those who like their news neat. @FT features chattier, discursive tweets."

@financialtimes has more followers than @FT, at 1.6m followers, but also has a two-year headstart having launched in April 2007 rather than January 2009, when the organisation looked to expand on its Twitter offering.

As we near the end of 2013, the Financial Times has a range of different Twitter accounts – @fastFT, @FTLiveTweets, @FTmideast, @fttechnews and @ftcomment are just a few – to cater to different niches and regions within its audience.

7. Respond to readers

Social media is more than just a distribution platform, in many ways that is its appeal, so interacting with the audience is likely to generate positive sentiment and bring more readers in from the platform. As well as responding to general enquiries, Laitner said, it can also help to give readers a bit more information on the newsroom and company where appropriate.

"Listen to readers' questions and views," she said. "Our social media manager Rebecca Heptinstall talks to readers about our access model and corporate initiatives."

8. Highlight conversations going on around your site

As well as engaging directly with readers on Twitter, it can help to promote the community and conversations that members of the audience may be having around the site and elsewhere.

"Tweets featuring letters to the editors and readers' comments on stories tend to be popular," Laitner said. "People like to know that their views are being heard."

Laitner said that the communities team will tweet about the "most popular story" in the morning and direct readers to any conversations around the site if the discussion "heats up on a particular FT story".

9. Tap your archives

When news breaks, readers may want related stories from the archives for context.

Contextualising breaking news and giving readers background information to the main story can be just as important as the story itself. In these situations, Laitner said, related stories from the archives can help readers put breaking news into perspective.

"Maija Palmer, our social media journalist, uses her knowledge of FT content to identify such stories," she said.

As an example, Laitner pointed to the above tweet about an interview with Mikhail Khordovsky, the Russian oligarch and prisoner who was recently pardoned, and an archive interview with Nicole Farhi, below, that was resurfaced when the fashion retailer went into administration in June.

10. Supply company information

Keeping the audience up-to-date with information about the organisation on the whole can promote a sense of inclusion among the audience and transparency from the organisation. And, of course, it will make the audience aware of any business-oriented updates or new features, Laitner said.

"We tweet about product launches, subscription offers for and where to find out about our services," she said. "These help keep readers up-to-date and inform their choices."

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