A couple of months ago The Times launched a 'Twitter directory' to enable readers, and potential new subscribers, to search for and follow journalists based on their specialism, and just last week a separate directory for The Sunday Times was also launched.
The collections of Twitter accounts for The Times and Sunday Times, carry the main account details for each member of staff, such as follower and following counts. As described in a blog post on the Times Digital Development Tumblr, the collection of accounts was created using existing Twitter lists featuring journalists from both newspapers.
They were "built using a Django backend plugged into Twitter API to allow the social media and community team to add and remove journalists and edit their titles without using a developer’s time," Ben Whitelaw, communities editor, explains in the post.
He outlines the important role Twitter plays in engagement between its journalists and readers, as well as a marketing tool for its paywalled journalism, which prompted the idea for the creation of a Times-hosted directory, sitting outside the paywall.
"We often speak to new readers at Times+ events who say they were persuaded to subscribe having followed a journalist or a section account and seeing content that they’d like to read but can’t," Whitelaw says.Twitter, it turns out, is a great shop window for our journalismBen Whitelaw, The Times and Sunday Times
"Twitter, it turns out, is a great shop window for our journalism.
"With that in mind, we figured it would be beneficial to try and increase the number of followers across our journalists and section accounts. To do so, we decided to create a Twitter directory for each title to make it easy for readers to find and follow the accounts that interest them."
Speaking to Journalism.co.uk over email, Whitelaw added that as well as encouraging new followers, the directories are also prompting "some healthy rivalry in the newsroom".
"We hope journalists who aren't particularly active see colleagues who are getting the benefits of using Twitter regularly," he said.
In terms of understanding the impact that the directories will have on digital subscriptions – most recently reported to be at 150,000 – Whitelaw said the team will "use campaign codes to hopefully track a user's journey from social to subscribing".
"So ultimate success would be attributing digital subscriptions to the Twitter directory," he added. "Obviously we'd like to see a strong conversion rate from these users – after all they're people who have made a conscious decision to follow The Times or The Sunday Times in the first place and are therefore further down the traditional marketing funnel.
"On a day-to-day basis we'll be looking at dwell time and to a lesser extent return visits to judge the success of the directory. But there's also the interest journalists who aren't on Twitter or who don't tweet often take in joining, sharing their work and getting feedback and stories from readers. That's harder to quantify but is as much interest to us".
In the blog post, published over the weekend, Whitelaw adds that continued development of the directories is being considered, such as the potential impact of "linking the Twitter directory to the news agenda by explaining why you should follow certain journalist on that day or week".
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