Fun with Tweetups

I just got back from The News and Observer’s first Tweetup, held at a bar in downtown Raleigh, N.C.  It was a blast.  I was impressed with the event, even though I’m hardly the type of person the event was designed to attract.  Since about 10 months out of the year I call Athens, Georgia home I was a bit of an anomaly at a gathering of Triangle Twitter users.  From the start, I had many motivations for attending. I’m a Raleigh native and lifelong N & O reader who still reads the paper regularly from afar.  I teach journalism and incorporate social media into my curriculum.  I’m a former reporter. I’m regularly engaged in social media.  I use social media for personal and professional reasons. I  conduct research into how news outlets are using social media.  I’m also a sucker for a tweetup. 

It’s nice to have real-world connections with online “friends” and “followers” and to have face-to-face interactions to go along with the online ones.  When I first learned about the tweetup from my former colleague @GinnySkal and saw that I’d be in town since the social gathering took place a few nights before a conference I’m attending in Chapel Hill I knew I’d go. I’m glad I did.

Personally, it was nice to see old friends and co-workers albeit briefly. I ran into an old classmate from high school whom I hadn’t seen in years, and we caught up.

But I also thought my hometown newspaper’s inaugural effort to connect with its SM-using public was well done, from a promotional and marketing standpoint.  Well-known N&O Twitter users had stations set up throughout the bar where users could meet and talk IRL with the reporters whose work and tweets they regularly read.  I spoke with the N&O’s food writer @andreaweigl, who runs the Mouthful food blog; Retial/Coupons expert @sue_stock (from whom I won an “Instant Bargains” book), and the paper’s @techjunkieblog tweeter/blogger.  Each reporter’s station was equipped with their business cards and promotional cards with info on the individual Twitter user on one side, and a list of prominent News and Observer reporters’ Twitter handles on the other.

The paper also gave away books, DVDs, Carolina Hurricanes hockey tickets and other prizes to users who used various social media, from retweeting tweets about the #nandotweetup to using a new geo-based Triangle specific service called TriOut.

Attendees could also write a short tweet-esque message, including their Twitter names on a dry erase white board and have their photo taken by an N&O photographer.  Presumably, this will be turned into a photo gallery of the event.  A screen displayed the live Twitter feed of users mentioning the #nandotweetup hashtag.

For reporters, it was a great opportunity to meet readers.  For readers, it was great to see the names behind the bylines, to socialize with reporters and provided an opportunity to ask questions of the reporters and editors (Even the top editor, John Drescher, was there for a while).

The whole event reminded me a great deal of the Raleigh newspaper’s efforts in the early 1990s to engage with the local community, through the creation of a local Bulletin Board Service called NandO.  A small, fun group emerged from that screeching slow dialup site (remember modems?) and a community formed organically. Users, myself being one of them, regularly organized social gatherings around the Triangle.  This was back when the paper was owned by the Daniels’ family.  Ironically, the innovative, trailblazing success of NandO played a large roll in the paper being sold to McClatchy.

The point is that everything old is new again.  Once again, my hometown newspaper is making a genuine effort to connect with its readers and foster a true community.  That was the right approach 15+ years ago.  That’s the right approach now.

Social media, when used correctly, can be a powerful tool for journalists. But social media can also be a heckuva lot of fun too.  The #nandotweetup illustrated both.

Kudos, N&O on a job well done on the tweetup.  I hope I’m in town for the next one.

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