The Revolution will be tweeted: what I learned about social media and online journalism after @redanddead815 went viral

Background information: I’ve long considered myself a student of social media and online journalism. I’ve always been interested and started my academic research on social media and newspapers in May. I’m a junior journalism and computer science major at UGA and the multimedia editor of Red and Dead/Red & Black (?). For backstory on what I’m talking about, read SPLC’s articles (here, here and here) which I think offer the most complete view. 

On Wednesday, Aug. 15, I began the best lesson in social media I’ll probably ever have when the editors of The Red & Black student newspaper in Athens, Ga. left our posts because of prior review and increased editorial control and formed Red and Dead. We all had a lot to prove, but for me especially, this “prove yourself” notion kept me going.

Ever since our EIC and ME officially granted me the new position of multimedia editor for this semester, I had been fighting for a change that some in the administration didn’t understand: that social media can make a difference. I was still working to gain the control of the social media accounts that was specified in my job description and I had a few tense discussions about social media with the professionals on staff. In short, although I respect the board for their expertise, some members just don’t understand how to appeal to the new generation of technological natives.

Within a few hours of us walking out, I set out to prove that social media CAN make a difference and would. I believed that and used what I already knew to make it happen. Almost immediately after we walked out, Red and Dead had a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and a WordPress site and we were actively posting on all of them. The revolution began and I made sure every single bit of it was tweeted.

I hope the administration understands now: social media isn’t a joke and can lead to powerful change outside cyberspace. It is important and it isn’t a “fad,” as one of the board members asked an editor in her job interview.

I’ve learned a lot about social media and online journalism which I will apply at The Red & Black — provided I get my job back and have access to the accounts — and in my future career.

Here’s how we did it and what I’ve learned from managing the online presence of what became a viral news sensation:

Social media is a conversation. I’ve said this before in other posts (you are reading my research blog BTW), but I’ve realized this is even more important. We were able to keep the conversation going on Facebook, Twitter and our website. I quickly responded to questions and asked for advice when we needed it. After our meeting on Friday, I tweeted asking for advice on the the reapplication vs. reinstatement issue and people responded. I read some of their points to the group and they helped us make our decision.

When someone made a good point, we responded to their suggestion. Someone posted about our adviser Ed Morales and how we should say something about him so he wasn’t blamed. We agreed and posted a statement about him within the hour.

Keep your audience informed. Our first goal was to get the word out, but after a reporter from The New York Times called me on my cell phone, I considered this goal accomplished and moved on to the information stage. We had the audience and needed to give them as much information as possible so they could make an informed decision. It’s what true journalists do.

We posted as many documents to our website as possible, including Ed Stamper’s apology, R&B’s tax forms and the infamous memo. I posted any documents I thought would inform our audience, including posting R&B’s tax forms while I was in computer programming class — I hope my professor doesn’t read this… I didn’t have time to read them though and had no idea that Harry’s salary would be so talked about.

As soon as we learned about the Friday meeting, I knew I had to live tweet it. So much of our audience was not in Athens and giving the play-by-play helped them stay informed and experience the meeting unfolding just as we did. We used the live tweeting for ourselves too. At one point during the meeting, the editors separated from the staff to ask about prior review and I was later told the staff was following my live tweeting from downstairs.

Professionalism is key. Throughout the process, Red and Dead had several catchphrases, but “keep it classy” was one of the most popular. We knew presenting a mature, united front was essential to getting our point across. We released official statements from the EIC as our voice and refused to comment on some issues. We sought to provide information and believed that once the journalism world knew the facts, we would have support behind us.

I am so proud of all the editors for sticking to this. It only would have taken one person to go rogue and ruin our mature, professional image that we worked so hard to protect.

Running a viral campaign is a sleepless job and you don’t eat much. People say the news never sleeps. I’m not sure if I believe that, but I can say for sure that Twitter doesn’t sleep (ever) and neither did I for about 72 hours. I worked to answer questions on Twitter and Facebook and lived off coffee and breakfast bars (yum). When we started posting content, I, along with the other editors, stayed up to write, edit and post as much content as possible. In the last few days, I have sent over 400 tweets, posted many times on the blog and I don’t even want to know how many times on Facebook.

We made a quick transition from posting about our story to posting editorial content, which proved what we had been saying all along: we’ll do this with a website and a computer if we have to, but we won’t stop. Our ability to change our brand helped us. We were constantly evolving our online presence and moving the story forward.

Who follows you is more important than how many people follow you. I wasn’t concerned with the number of people who were following us, but who followed us. We worked hard to make sure the right people knew about our situation. I think one of the main reasons we were successful was because the people who followed us closely were influencers with vast and varied networks. We targeted people closely. For example, we called the SPLC about 10 minutes after we left 540 Baxter Street and discussed who from Grady should be involved. We settled pretty quickly on Dr. Barry Hollander — obviously, a good choice. Yes, Dr. Hollander: I see you in those photos from the “open meeting” trying to blend into the crowd. I know it’s you because you are holding a Jittery Joe’s coffee.

Twitter has an automated spam trigger. Who would’ve thought it? When we first set up the Twitter account, everyone had access to it and people were tweeting celebrities and following ridiculous amounts of people, which set off Twitter’s spam trigger and suspended our account. We eventually got our Twitter account back, but it did take a while. In the meantime, I posted on Facebook and tweeted from my own account, beginning tweets with “.@redanddead815:” so people would know I was tweeting for Red and Dead.

Live tweeting is hard. When I submitted my multimedia proposal to Julia and Polina a couple of months ago before this whole mess began, it included live tweeting. Little did I know I would soon experience the most intense live tweeting I could imagine. I knew I had to do it, but I was nervous. My heart was pounding and my hands were shaking and yes, I misspelled some names. More to come on what I learned about live tweeting in the next post.

Sometimes you have to beat people over the head. People don’t always get things the first time. The Red & Black is independent from UGA. The Red & Black is independent from UGA. The Red & Black is independent from UGA. The Red & Black is independent from UGA. Understand, yet? I answered this question so many times and continued to answer it because it was important. We also monitored news coverage as best as we could to make sure the facts were correct. We contacted several publications (NYT included) to correct their mistakes and make sure our story was portrayed accurately.

Know who has access to your accounts. When we first made the accounts, everyone knew all the passwords and lots of people were on the Twitter account — one of the reasons the account was suspended. After someone retweeted a satirical account of Harry, I changed the password and added my name to the bio section. One other person had the password so quality control was a lot easier.

Ask Twitter and you shall receive. We asked for advice, we were given advice. We asked people to come to the open house, people showed up in support of us. We even asked for space and several people sent information about donating space to us for a while.

We have been so impressed and humbled by the response we have gotten from the UGA community, Red & Black alums, fellow journalists and others. I’ve always hated the the word “slacktivism” and now we have even more proof that this is not real. We had so many dedicated people who helped us out. Thank you.

2 comments

  1. Not sure if Malcolm Gladwell would agree, but an excellent summation of the role social media played in this whole situation. A good “lessons learned” post.

  2. Andria says:

    Nice post, Lindsey.

    I’ve no doubt that infamous missteps in the sports world with social media make people like the board nervous, especially in a place in which football rules.

    You’ve done a lovely job showing that trained, smart journalists can use social media well, and it’s a great place to hone headlines.

    (Back to sports, briefly: @kbutter5 has shown that some sports stars can tweet well too; here in North Carolina, he’s rocking it with more than 111,000 followers and few, if any, missteps.)

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