Teaching Twitter to journalists, hoping to make an impact

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Today I taught in a Poynter seminar for news anchors. As I was getting situated in the classroom before everyone else had arrived, I wondered if I had what it took to teach such an experienced group of journalists. But as the anchors entered the room, it became clear that I had little to worry about. They greeted me with their big TV-personality smiles and seemed eager for the session to start.

No need to feel intimidated anymore. I know this stuff. No need to worry, I told myself.

I had 10 main social media tips I wanted to teach, but I only got through about four of them. The last time I taught this session to a group of news editors last month, I got through all 10 tips. The difference in the two groups reminded me that when teaching, you sometimes need to modify your lesson plan to fit the personalities and needs of the people you’re teaching. You need to meet them where they are, and hope they’ll trust you enough to let you lead them out of their comfort zone.

I think they trusted me.

To gauge their familiarity with Twitter, I asked the anchors how familiar they were with the site. A few of them were regularly tweeting, while others were on Twitter but hadn’t used it in months. Some weren’t on Twitter at all and hesitated to join. I realized early on that I’d have to turn my more advanced social media presentation into a Twitter 101 crash course. By the end of the session, everyone learned how to create Twitter lists, and search for sources and ideas on Twitter. And everyone who wasn’t already on Twitter created an account. (Score!)

Teaching the anchors reminded me how much I value face-to-face interactions. Because I interview journalists nationwide, I hardly ever interview people in person. And all of the freelancers I work with are spread around the country, so we talk via email or phone. Teaching journalists in person makes it easier for me to quickly form connections with them. After I taught, I got to coach some of the anchors 1:1. We mostly talked about Facebook and Twitter, but we also cracked jokes and talked about our personal lives and interests.

I hope to have more opportunities to teach in the future. Even if I help just a couple of journalists in each seminar, I can feel confident in knowing I’ve made an impact.