Student guest post: Twitter, the non-social media

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, right, answers questions at a recent talk at High Point University.
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, right, answers questions at a talk at High Point University.

Students in JOMC 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the first of those posts. Sarah Kaylan Butler is a senior majoring in journalism. She is from Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is a digital journalist dedicated to cultivating community. A portion of her community journalism pursuit includes serving as the editor-at-large for the Durham VOICE and the Carrboro Commons.

It’s 2016, and we have access to so many social media platforms that it’s absurd. Do we know what each one is for and how to use their many functions?

I mean, Facebook was created to keep college students connected as they spanned across the nation. Instagram shares photos and videos (partially thanks to Vine), although once a post is made, it’s not easily sharable. Snapchat shares temporary photos and videos with individuals or a geographical location.  We’re getting more platforms by the day, like Periscope and WhatsApp.

There’s one platform that I don’t agree is social by nature. Twitter.

It doesn’t serve as a “social” medium. I realize that when you Google “Twitter” a the description says it’s a “social networking service.” My proposition is merely to scratch the term “social” and refer to it as a networking medium or news source.

High Point University recently hosted a conversation between Dr. Nido Qubein, HPU’s president, and Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter.

During their open chat, Stone talked about what Twitter was like in the beginning and how it has grown. He acknowledged that Facebook and Twitter aren’t the same.

“These are completely different services. They’re always lumped together, but they’re totally different,” Stone said.

If I tweet to a friend, “Hey, I’m about to break up with my boyfriend, but I can’t think of what to say. Can you come over?” I might annoy my followers or even gain a few enemies.

Of course, our parents taught us manners, and those lessons apply online.

So maybe it’s not such a good idea to hold ongoing casual conversation on Twitter, but what is it good for? Networking.

Networking isn’t always within your career field. As journalists, we can use it to build strong local communities.

Stone said, “Twitter isn’t about keeping up with your friends. It’s about … first to the world. It’s about finding out what’s happening right now. It’s about — if you have something to say, saying it right now.”

Tweeting, as a medium to share news, has become one of Twitter’s staples since its conception in 2006. It freely allows businesses, journalists, travelers and anyone else to network with other like-minded individuals or entities.

In fact, Stone said that he was surprised when celebrities began using Twitter because they already have a voice. 

Dr. Qubein even asked Stone, “Does it depress you that the people with the largest following are Katy Perry and Mr. Bieber?” Stone responded by saying, “You know, It’s funny. I thought celebrities would never use Twitter because they’re celebrities. The whole point of a celebrity is that you have limited access to them. You can watch them in movies, but that’s it.”

Now celebrities use Twitter to build and interact with fans, but it has many other uses.

During a snowstorm, users can be alerted of school closings. While walking around downtown, users can be alerted to great sales happening at their favorite local stores. While protesting users can be alerted to what’s happening at similar marches around the world.

Stone talked about his experience at a South By Southwest Interactive conference, when he was standing at the back of a room and noticed that Twitter was on every phone. He said that at one point, only 10 minutes into a session, “everyone just got up and left. It was like someone had announced something over the PA system.”

Later, he found out people were tweeting about something across the hall that they were more interested in and like birds, they flocked to it or followed it.

In everyday conversation, people use phrases like “Do you follow me?” to ask if someone understands. They ask their co-workers during their lunch break, “Hey, are you following this story?” That’s why Stone said he decided to allow users to “follow” each other, instead of become “friends.”

“All along I’ve always thought of Twitter — it’s not a social network. It’s not where you go to connect with your friends from high school. Twitter is, yes, it’s social media broadly because it’s media and it’s people, but Twitter fundamentally is the place where you go to hear news first.”

As people who consume many different kinds of social media, let’s be aware of the tools we have at our disposal and use them appropriately.

Q&A with Kristie Gonzales, promotion and digital brand manager at WABC-TV

Kristie Gonzales, left, and other members of the WABC-TV staff.

Kristie Gonzales is promotion and digital brand manager at WABC-TV in New York City. She previously worked at stations in California and North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Gonzales talks about her job, the relationship between news and promotions, and her advice for journalism students.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. The first thing I do when I wake up is turn on “Eyewitness News This Morning” and “Good Morning America.” Before I arrive to work, I’ve posted on social media for abc7ny, and I have a good idea of what stories are trending that day.

Once I get to work, I attend our 9 a.m. news meeting to learn how we’re going to cover those stories. From there, I pow-wow with our promotion and digital producers to see how we can attract the most viewers to our various platforms. We are putting a lot of emphasis on expanding our social media video right now, on top of our regular on-air duties.

The rest of my time is spent working on image campaigns, various shoots and outside media spends. I take frequent social media breaks to listen to what our viewers are saying because they are the heartbeat of our operation.

It’s wonderful; I never get the chance to watch the clock in this job and no day is ever alike because you always have the possibility of breaking news.

Q. What is the relationship between news and promotions at TV stations like yours?

A. News and promotion are incredibly close and work hand-in-hand at WABC-TV. Our department attends news meetings and is expected to contribute story ideas and evaluate stories based on promotional appeal. I always tell our new interns that news tells the story, and we sell the story.

We try to be as educated as possible on what our viewers want from us, so there’s always a healthy discourse with our newsroom colleagues about how we craft our special reports. Plus, one of the more interesting aspects of promoting in social media is that it has virtually killed the tease. It’s forced us to be more like news because we are focusing on delivering solid content versus slick-sounding promises in our on-air pushes.

Q. Before going to New York in 2014, you worked at TV stations in Fresno, California, and Durham, North Carolina. How did those experiences in smaller markets help you in your current job?

A. I cannot overstate the importance of gaining experience if differently sized markets. Not only is it better to make your mistakes in front of half a million people instead of 20 million, but you will also learn different lessons in each market.

In Fresno, I learned you can do so much with so little. That prepared me to be a better steward of the larger budgets I encountered in top markets. If you can do your best with a crew of one or a crew of 30, you’re more prepared to handle whatever comes your way.

I’ve done almost every kind of production job in TV, and that’s made me a much better director and manager. You also don’t buy excuses because you know there are different ways of getting TV done.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists?

A. I hope you don’t mind a list! These are the little nuggets I’ve been collecting and sharing over the years:

  • Just scrub your social media clean. Plain and simple. You would think everyone knows this by now.
  • Learn every possible media creation tool you can. I get hundreds of intern applications so I only look at candidates who can edit, write, shoot and have experience in social media.
  • Take any foot in the door that you can get. You never know where it will lead! Walk through that open door.
  • Don’t be afraid to move or take that first low-paying job. You’re smart – you‘ll figure out how to make it work!
  • Come prepared. Do your homework before you ever walk in the door. That includes knowing the day’s news, the competition and who the talent and executives are.
  • If you are looking for advice or a mentor, come with specific asks.
  • Aspire to leadership. Our business needs more diversity behind the cameras in management.
  • Follow me on social media and feel free to ask me anything, or shoot me an email!

UPDATE: In June 2016, Gonzales was named president and general manager of KVUE in Austin, Texas.

Q&A with Tracy Duncan of Star Wars Stylebook

A tweet from the fan-created Star Wars Stylebook explains the difference between hyperdrive and warpdrive.
A tweet from the fan-created Star Wars Stylebook explains the difference between hyperdrives and warp drives.

Tracy Duncan is a blogger who runs the Star Wars Stylebook account on Twitter. In this interview, conducted by email, Duncan discusses the origins of @SWStylebook, common questions she receives and her outlook on the next movie in the series.

Q. Why a “Star Wars” stylebook?

A. I originally wrote a post for the blog I run, Club Jade, on common errors you see with certain “Star Wars” terms. This was December 2012, not long after Lucasfilm was sold to Disney and the new movies were announced, so Star Wars was again a big part of the mainstream discussion and I was running across pretty simple errors like “Jedis” and “Lucasfilms” everywhere from Twitter to Associated Press stories. That post did pretty well, but it didn’t really find an audience outside of the fandom.

The stylebook concept really took off with Twitter. In June 2014, I saw @APStylebook do an #APStyleChat about religion, started thinking about how that would apply to the term “the Force” and that old post, and that led to @SWStylebook.

I expected it to maybe get a hundred or so followers in fan media, but it took off with standard journalists as well. I owe a lot of that to @tvjedi, who brought it up among Chicago-area media when the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art was announced there not long after I started publicizing the account.

Q. How do you determine what to include in the stylebook, and what are some of the common questions people have about “Star Wars” terminology and names?

A. I try and keep it to the most basic terms, things your average person would recognize or know about. There’s so much additional material with “Star Wars,” I could probably spend weeks tweeting about various types of tanks or spaceships, but most people are only going to know or care about things that are prominent in the movies, like AT-ATs or the Millennium Falcon.

I get asked about “tauntaun” and “stormtrooper” fairly regularly. Stormtrooper can be confusing because the prequel versions, the clone troopers, have a space between the words, but stormtrooper doesn’t.

I also get a lot of pronunciation questions about things that aren’t really named on-screen, which is understandable, but also not really something I’m comfortable advising on because it’s not something I’ve particularly paid attention to. But if there’s something official out there that I’m aware of, I will try to link it. Last week, someone asked me about how to say AT-AT, and almost the next day, they were talking about it on a Youtube series produced by Lucasfilm.

Q. How do you deal with the different versions of the movies as well as “Star Wars” books, comic books, etc.?

A. I’m old enough that I grew up on the VHS versions of the films, but I can’t really get that worked up about the changes. I’d appreciate being able to buy pristine versions of the THX versions on Blu-ray, but it’s not a huge issue for me.

I do have a deep dislike of the CGI Jabba scene in “A New Hope,” partly because the digital Jabba isn’t that great, but mostly because the dialogue in the scene is redundant. Everything we learned there had already been told in the Greedo scene. (I can take or leave the whole shooting first thing, honestly.)

I was a big Expanded Universe (never Extended!) fan, mostly of the novels that have since been declared non-canon because of the new trilogy. If I hadn’t spent years reading them, I doubt I’d have absorbed enough about the series to be able to do something like Star Wars Stylebook, but I also think they’d been in a deep spiral of declining quality for a long time.

Licensed fiction is always a risk, but there were a lot of wasted opportunities and particularly by 2012, the audience that was still reading them was only a small fraction of fans. I can’t blame Lucasfilm at all for their decision — anyone who’d been paying attention knew it was inevitable the moment they announced new movies.

As for the stylebook, we actually had a big discussion at one point over whether Anakin’s nickname should be spelled “Ani” or “Annie.” Early things like “The Phantom Menace” novelization have it as “Annie” — and that’s what I went with originally — but captions from “The Clone Wars” cartoon had it as “Ani.” That was fan preference as well, so if someone asks, “Ani” seems the safer bet.

There’s also conflicting information about whether “dark side” should be capitalized or not, and if it’s Toshi Station or Tosche Station, but in those cases I also go with the more recent stuff — or I might ask someone at Lucasfilm, if it’s not on the Databank or something else I can check myself. They’ve been pretty consistent since the prequel days, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Q. ”Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” opens in December. We’ve seen the trailers. Any predictions on how good the movie will be?

A. My gut — and everything I’ve been reading — tells me it’ll be good, or at least super fun. I definitely think it has a good chance at pleasing a lot of fans. Here’s hoping!

From headline to hashtag

In recent years, politics in Raleigh, North Carolina, have been pretty polite. Elections for City Council and mayor have rarely seen negative campaigning.

That changed this week when this full-page advertisement with a provocative headline appeared in two community newspapers owned by The News & Observer.


The impetus for the ad is a debate regarding outdoor drinking at some bars. Earlier this year, the City Council narrowly passed an ordinance to address concerns about noise and crowded, dirty sidewalks. Bar owners said the ordinance has failed to address the problems while cutting into their business.

What struck me about the ad is how quickly it became the topic of conversation on social media. The hashtag #DrunkTown began trending almost immediately. There’s already a T-shirt.

The hubbub prompted local media organizations, including The News & Observer itself, to write stories about the ad. Other stories included a look at Raleigh’s “besotted past.” The ad even inspired an Onion-style bit of satire.

The “DrunkTown” campaign has since expanded to radio and direct mail. But it started in print.

It’s interesting that even today, with revenue for newspaper advertising in steady decline, an ad in print would become the talk of the town. The newspaper is sometimes still a conversation starter. I imagine that publishers will make a toast to that.

Q&A with Kelly Poe, reporter at

Kelly Poe is a business reporter at in Birmingham, Alabama. She previously worked at the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Poe discusses her job, social media and the job market in journalism.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. My typical day starts with checking my email (usually in bed on my phone) and checking in on a group news chat to see if there’s anything that needs immediate attention. Usually there’s not, so the day starts with a statewide morning news meeting.

I’m the only dedicated business reporter and Birmingham is about the size of Raleigh, so I’m never searching for things to do. I write everything I’d do if I had unlimited time on a to-do list, prioritize and cross off as much as I can in a day. Sometimes I only write one story a day; sometimes I write six.

Occasionally, I write about country music too, just because that’s a thing that I like (and that Alabama likes) and we have an incredible amount of freedom to write what we want here.

Q. In Greensboro, you worked for a daily newspaper. In Birmingham, you work for a publication that goes to press three times a week. How has that change affected your job as a reporter?

A. The number of days we go to press has had little to no effect on my job, as my responsibility first and foremost is to our website — and that is something very different from the other places I’ve worked. We post news as soon as it’s ready, and I actually rarely know which of my stories go into the print editions until I read them. Since we only print three times a week, it’s only a fraction of our content.

In a daily paper, you worry about length a lot more. You’re told by an editor to make something 12 inches and sometimes it would be best at 10, but you fill in those last two inches anyway. When you’re writing for the web, length is rarely a consideration — a story gets exactly what it needs, no more, no less. I also write my own headlines on the Web, something I never did for the print paper.

Q. You are active on Twitter. How do you use it as a journalism tool and resource?

A. Twitter is actually how I got this job!

While in Greensboro, I needed a phone number for a developer I couldn’t find online. So I followed an reporter who had written about him before, and when he followed me back, I direct-messaged him and asked him for the developer’s phone number, and he gave it to me. A few months later, the reporter contacted me to let me know about a job opening, and now I’m here! Twitter is a fantastic networking tool for journalism jobs.

As for how I use it in reporting, I often use it to gauge local interest in a story – I like to ask my followers if they think something is worth a story or not. I also use it to promote my own content, and I’ll frequently embed tweets for quick reaction posts to big news.

But Twitter’s just the tip of the social network iceberg. While Twitter has been the most valuable for professional networking and self-promotion within the journalism world, Facebook and Reddit have been far more valuable for me in news gathering.

Q. The job market in news is tough. What advice do you have for student journalists on how to break into a competitive field?

A. Introduce yourself to people who work where you want to work. When I was in college, I hated the concept of networking – but get over it, because if you’re not good at networking, you probably won’t be terribly good at reporting.

Introduce yourself to every professional journalist you’re ever in the same room with, and stay in touch, because the people you know will be your most valuable resource in job hunting. I promise it gets less weird, and especially if you end up covering something like business, introducing yourself to strangers in a room full of people in suits is a valuable skill for news gathering.

Learn at least one skill that most people don’t have. I know that when I was first looking for a job, I had great luck in getting interviews in Texas because of my Spanish. That didn’t help me everywhere, but it definitely made me stand out in certain markets.

Be willing to move. It’s a lot easier to get the job you want if you’re not restricting yourself to a certain geographic location. And look outside of the big cities, too!

I can’t tell you the incredible amount Birmingham has to offer 20-somethings, and I never considered moving to Alabama until the opportunity fell into my lap. Keep an open mind, and don’t rule out a job just because you don’t know much about the location – it could end up being the best place you’ve ever lived.

Q&A with Caroline McCain, account associate at communications firm Javelin

Caroline McCain is an account associate at Javelin, a communications firm in the D.C. area. In this interview, conducted by email, McCain discusses her work at Javelin, which has a social media focus, and prior jobs at two churches.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workday like?

A. Javelin is a growing communications firm in Old Town, Alexandria. We do everything from public relations to digital to books to social media. I work as an account associate, and I help with PR projects and lead our growing social media offerings to clients.

Days are pretty full and fast-paced — you’re basically as busy as the news cycle is. Particularly in the world of digital media, there is always something to be done, so it’s not hard to stay busy. I love the fast pace and the range of clients we work with. It keeps me on my toes.

With social media, my days are spent in a pretty consistent rhythm of creation, publishing, measuring and tweaking. Some of our core values at Javelin are continual improvement and accountability — and those are two things that are absolutely necessary in any client-facing relationship, but particularly in social media.

Social is great and can be fun, but unless it’s leading to an actual return on investment, you’re just spinning your wheels. So I spend a lot of time checking in with clients about what’s working, what’s not, and how we can get better results.

Q. You previously worked at as communications director at a Virginia church. What was it like to make a transition from a religious organization to a secular one?

A. The transition, in and of itself, was one that I had wanted to make for a while. But it was a matter of making sure the timing was right. My time spent working for both the church in Virginia, and previously for a church in Durham, North Carolina, was vital to my professional development. Anyone who works in the nonprofit sector knows what it’s like to be given a lot of responsibility, but very limited resources. It forces you to grow quickly.

I was deeply passionate about where I was working, and so I wanted our communications across media to be as effective and excellent as possible. But often that looked like me learning how to code, or learning graphic design, or getting my feet wet with video. We didn’t always have the resources to hire someone who already knew how to do those things.

So those four years working with churches was so great for me. Out of necessity, I developed a whole new skill set, and I had the chance to lead teams of people.

Q. Your surname is a notable one in Washington politics. How has that affected your career, if at all?

A. Ha-ha. Honestly, it doesn’t affect things for me that much. I am immensely proud of my grandfather, and I am proud to call him family. But I hope that my work — both in scope and ethic — stands on its own.

I am more than happy to talk about my name when asked, but it’s rarely something I bring up from the get-go. I imagine here in D.C. people might wonder, but I don’t get asked about it as often as I thought I might. Then again, 2008 was a long time ago. People have moved on.🙂

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2010. What skills that you learned there do you use in your job now, and what new ones have you picked up? What advice do you have for the Class of 2015?

A. It’s become trendy these days to knock on journalism degrees. But the skills and the relationships I gained at UNC are so invaluable. I took away some very practical skills: reporting, editing, what makes for a good story, asking the right questions. And in some of my classes, I was learning how to write good tweets and what Tumblr was long before either social network became as ubiquitous as they are now.

I was on a track to become a reporter, and now I’ve crossed over to the “dark side” and am working in PR! I never took one PR course when I was at UNC, and so it was a surprising step for me.

A lot of the skills I use day-to-day in terms of social media, growing audiences online, etc., are things I learned after graduation. A lot of learning by trial and error, self-education, etc. In the digital space, things are constantly evolving, and so you have to be committed to learning new things every day and adapting to change so you can keep getting better.

My biggest advice to the class of 2015 is to diversify your skill set as much as you can! The j-school already does a great job of this, but I’d encourage you to go beyond what’s required. Take that photo class, learn how to code, actually learn to speak a language conversationally. They seem like requirements now while you’re in school, but all those things will serve you well when you graduate.

UPDATE: In November 2105, McCain left Javelin to oversee social media for Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign.

Q&A with Philip Jones, social media community leader for UNC-Chapel Hill

Philip Jones is social media community leader at UNC-Chapel Hill, his alma mater. He previously held a similar position at Elon University. Jones has worked as an anchor and reporter for North Carolina TV stations WFMY and WNCT. He started his career in print journalism. In this interview, conducted by email, Jones talks about his position at UNC and how the university uses social media. 

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical workday like?

A. I’m part of a team of three folks who manage UNC’s main social media presence on platforms such as Twitter (@UNC), Facebook (/uncchapelhill), Instagram (@uncchapelhill) and Snapchat (unc-chapelhill). We each have different strengths and backgrounds, which ideally makes for fun, diverse and creative content for our users.

Every workday is a little different. We rotate which platforms we’re covering each day so that the content and experience don’t become stale for us or for the audience.

There’s a fair amount of time spent at my desk doing customer service (i.e. fielding questions we receive about UNC via social or participating in conversations about Carolina), there’s a bit of time spent looking for content about or related to UNC, there’s time spent with other members of the Office of Communications and Public Affairs going over what they’re working on and how we can amplify it through social media, and of course there’s time spent walking around campus or attending events looking for great photos, videos and posts.

We also do a lot of listening. We monitor conversations and news reports about Carolina, and we love jumping in and engaging with people who seek us out. We can’t respond to every tweet or post, but we do see and take note of all the ones directed our way.

Q. You held a similar job at Elon University. From a social media perspective, how is a big public university like UNC different from a smaller, private school like Elon?

A. The basics are the same: Our goal is to have fun and find ways to resonate with students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, prospective students, the local community and the public at large.

There are big differences, though, in the sizes of the followings, the scope of the issues facing each university and how much conversation there is about the institutions. If I screw up something now, more people are likely to notice!

But it’s important that Carolina takes ownership of telling its story and making sure people understand what’s remarkable about this place. It’s exciting to share in doing that through social media.

My hope at UNC is the same as what it was at Elon – to inform and entertain our users. If someone learns something, feels some nostalgia, cracks a smile or takes a little more pride in their institution because of what we’ve done that day on social media, I’m happy. It is a bit more personal for me now, though, as Carolina is a place I’ve loved since I was a child.

Q. On occasion, universities have to respond to bad news via social media. What is UNC’s approach on events such as the release of the Wainstein report or the fatal shooting of three students off campus?

A. On those occasions, we aim to use social media as a way to complement and amplify the university’s traditional messaging. However, I do believe social media has inspired institutions to organize and publish that messaging more quickly than in the past.

We know an hours-later press release isn’t sufficient these days. So when there’s significant news, our team immediately begins thinking of ways we can share information quickly and even differently – perhaps through photos, videos or graphics.

Social media also gives us an opportunity to humanize the university during exciting or challenging events. There’s a person behind each of our posts, tweets and pics – and we’re likely experiencing the same feelings and emotions our community is. When appropriate, social media allows us to convey that and make clear that what we’re doing isn’t branding, but is instead relating.

Q. Before getting into social media professionally, you worked in television and, before that, for newspapers and magazines. How were you able to make those transitions?

A. What a long, strange trip it’s been! At my core, I *love* words. That’s what has enabled and fueled me as I embarked on each new adventure.

I love telling stories, and I’ve been blessed to tell them in a bunch of different ways. The biggest transition was leaving TV and moving to social media full-time. But social media had become such a central part of my reporting process that it felt like a natural move.

I used social media to find sources and story ideas on a routine basis – it wasn’t just about attempting to showcase my work and churn out links to the masses. How I used my social media accounts became a “digital resume” I was able to use to help earn the job at Elon and show that I was capable of representing it well online.

Q. Many journalism students are interested in careers in social media. What advice do you have for them?

A. The biggest point I always make is to keep the “social” in social media. Whether you’re representing yourself or an organization, you have to interact. You have to be genuine. And you have to be an active part of the online community.

Know that you’re going to screw up, and don’t be afraid of a flop. Typos happen. Sometimes you don’t do a good job of reading the room. Every once in a while, your community won’t have any interest in that post you thought would go viral. Even the best-ever hitters in baseball only got it right about 40 percent of the time!

So do your best on every effort but know that sometimes it just ain’t gonna work. And that’s OK. Social media is an inexact science. It didn’t even exist in its current form when I graduated from Carolina in 2006, so you’re going to have to work hard to stay ahead of the curve.

I also believe that if you’re going to be a great producer, you have to be a great consumer. That goes for journalism and social media. Read a lot. Consume a lot. Experiment. And have fun.

Follow Philip Jones on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.