The (mis)use of Twitter by the UK’s biggest newspapers

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Newspapers continue to treat Twitter like a glorified RSS feed, not as an opportunity to build communities or conduct conversations

By Adam Vincenzini (as part of the 2010 ‘newspaper-less’ experiment)

The UK’s major newspapers, like The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Independent could be classed as ‘anti-social’ if they were judged by their collective use of Twitter.

An investigation of their primary Twitter accounts shows that while they might be ‘well-followed’ they fail (it seems) in two very important areas: ‘engagement’ and ‘generosity’.

Let’s take a look at some of the key findings from the investigation:

  • The five most most ‘popular’ newspapers on Twitter in the UK (outlined above) are followed by a total of 164,623 people, yet only follow back 3,445 –  which is an average ratio of 2.1%.
  • Replies or mentions of others by these five newspapers in question account for less than 1% of total activity
  • More than 98% of their activity is automated i.e distributed by clients like TwitterFeed
  • And, on average, these newspapers Tweet just under 38 times per day
If represented visually, they’d resemble the image on the left as opposed to the three grouped together on the right:

(Note, the accounts used for this analysis were: @financialtimes, @guardiannews, @telegraphnews, @timesonline and @TheIndyNews)

What does this mean?

This will mean different things to different people.

Someone representing one of these newspapers might say, with some considerable justification, that:

There is more than one use for Twitter. We’ve decided to make our primary accounts real time feeds to help deliver news to our readers that fits in with their daily routine. A good percentage of our individual staff and desks / departments engage in a lot more ‘two-way’ activity via their accounts. We think this is the right balance.

Someone else might have the following, contrasting, view:

These publications are missing out on a great opportunity to build a loyal and engaged community via their primary Twitter accounts. So much is written and said about consumers moving away traditional outlets, which is why Twitter, if used properly, could bring people flooding back to these titles because they’ll have an increased sense of ownership / involvement.  

Personally I think, for what it’s worth, that these titles might be missing a trick by taking option one.

They (potentially) have an army of loyal and passionate ambassadors waiting to be engaged.

5 simple tactics these titles could consider to increase engagement

  1. Make it more personal. Don’t ‘only’ use an automated Twitterfeed, have a PERSON (or team of people) fronting the account. We connect better with humans than machinery / technology.
  2. Share the love. At the moment it’s one way traffic. Change that up, encourage people to respond to the news you deliver by requesting comments, links to similar topics and links to their own posts. Once received, share some of this information with your ‘huge’ audience. It’ll be appreciated.
  3. Give thanks. Your readers will often retweet your articles amongst their networks, many of which won’t be regular readers of your publication. Thank these people for helping you spread your content further with a simple ‘thank you’ tweet from time-to-time.
  4. Provide the occasional exclusive. Who’s to say you can’t deliver a link to a story that is initially hidden on your site and only made ‘available’ to Twitter followers as part of a 10-minute window. People love ‘breaking, breaking news’ – give them that thrill once in a while, it’ll go down well.
  5. Surprise us. Break up the monotony of the ‘feed’ by providing some content we wouldn’t expect, and more importantly ‘involves us’ – we like routine, and to know what we’re going to get, but the occasional ‘left field’ Tweet is always received well.

As I stated earlier, this analysis and subsequent tips are only based on the primary accounts of each of the publications in question.

BUT, these are the accounts that are the most followed, and present the biggest opportunity to increase engagement.

I’d love to see someone give it a decent crack…any takers??

Adam Vincenzini


The stats used in these piece were primarily sourced via and

A similar study was conducted looking at newspapers in the USA last year (albeit far more robust) – you can take a look at this by clicking here.

I decided to take a look at the Twitter activity of these newspapers as part of the experiment I’m conducting this year which involves not physically reading ‘printed news’ for 365 days – full details here.


  • Reply March 23, 2010

    Ben Bush

    While I heartily endorse points 4 and 5, I think it’s hard for a newspaper brand to have a genuinely interactive Twitter presence, let alone one with a defined personality. The potential volume of tweets could easily become prohibitive.

    Far better, IMHO, to encourage individual journalists to embrace the social/research/loyalty opportunities offered by Twitter. As a ‘reader’ (becoming an outdated term) I certainly value a combination of straight feeds from newspapers and direct interaction with the writers/columnists/bloggers who I’m most interested in.

  • Reply March 23, 2010

    Joanne Jacobs

    The thing is, primary accounts are used mainly as broadcasting channels. When you @reply a primary account you are more often contacted directly by an editor or chief journalist in a specific discipline. So it’s one of those situations where the statistics don’t tell the true tale. Being contacted directly puts a name to a concern, and avoids a situation where a primary twitter account starts to muddy others’ tweet streams.

    This is one of those areas where strategic use of a twitter account as a broadcast channel could be regarded as ‘okay’. For the consumer, so long as *someone* is listening and responding to the backchannel, there is value in continuing to listen and respond to the primary account.

    Of course it would be useful every now and then for the primary channel to respond to a large number of @replies. But for individual enquiries, it’s often more sensible to have an individual response. It’s a matter of scaling the resources to handle user inquiries. And individual responses are often more appropriate anyway.

  • Reply March 23, 2010

    Rax lakhani

    Nice post Adam. I completely agree with what you’re saying here. Newspapers – now, more than ever, need to develop their brands into ‘personalities’ rather than just rely on people syndicating their news via channels via Twitter.

    There is a real opportunity here for media brands to build a genuine two-way conversation with their community and for individual journalists to gather a real following on Twitter.

  • Reply March 23, 2010

    Andrew Drinkwater

    Good stuff as usual. Some interesting comments too. If you’re looking for someone who combines the personal touch with news and insight into newspapers then @EchoPeterBarron is worth following. he’s on holiday at the moment but keep an eye on how he does it when he’s back at work.

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