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Breaking the news on Twitter Breaking news, News hits, PR musings, University Magazine

Last fall, I wrote a piece for RIT: The University Magazine (RIT’s alumni magazine) explaining how my job and those of my University News colleagues have changed drastically over the past decade. Ten years ago, we reached our target audience by writing primarily for the media and for RIT internal publications.

Today, we increasingly write directly to our target audience—RIT students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, parents, friends and neighbors—and secondarily for the “middle man” (the news media).

This shift was exemplified in a big way with this week’s announcement that RIT would be changing its academic calendar from quarters to semesters, effective in Fall 2013 (arguably the biggest internal RIT news story since the naming of Bill Destler as the university’s ninth president in 2007).

How did you learn this week’s news? If you’re one of the nearly 1,300 people “following” RITNEWS on Twitter, perhaps you read it there first. If so, you got the news before most people—because as soon as word arrived that President Destler had announced his decision, Twitter was the first place it was published, at 3:04 p.m. (beating Reporter magazine by three minutes—not that we’re counting).

Three “tweets,” in rapid succession, reported the breaking news—first in a concise “headline,” followed by a link to President Destler’s message explaining his decision and, finally, a sub-headline, in essence, conveying the gravity of the news:

RITNEWS RIT switching to semester calendar starting Fall 2013, President Destler tells #RIT Institute Council

RITNEWS President Destler’s decision to switch from quarters to semesters in Fall 2013 explained: http://bit.ly/9gzOG7 #RIT

RITNEWS After decades on a quarter calendar, #RIT’s first fall semester to begin Aug. 26, 2013

Follow-up tweets promoted President Destler’s appearance, later that day, on “The Bill Destler Show” on campus radio station WITR-FM (89.7).

Naturally, RITNEWS had an edge over others reporting the news (such as Reporter) because we knew the president’s decision before his official announcement. Nevertheless, we needed to wait for that announcement—and so we did.

In earlier conversations with RIT Chief Communications Officer Bob Finnerty, I expressed that insofar as social media was concerned, we needed to be first. We couldn’t let anyone beat us on this story. Now, that might seem easy—we already knew the decision, after all. True enough—but we correctly anticipated that others would be tweeting from the same meeting.

So, we mapped our strategy: Bob would attend the meeting and send a text message as soon as President Destler first uttered the word, “semesters.” At 3:04 p.m.—about 10 minutes earlier than expected—Bob’s one-word text message arrived: “Go!” With that, I blasted out the news in this order:

RIT home page and RIT News home page (linking to President Destler’s statement)
• Facebook: RIT Fan Page, RIT News Fan Page and Dateline: RIT Group (linking to the statement)

Meanwhile, colleagues Paul Stella and Linda Kanaley simultaneously sent the official Message Center e-mail announcement and posted the official news release, respectively.

One of the great things about social-media channels such as Twitter and Facebook is their ability to provide instant feedback (via Facebook comments and Twitter tweets utilizing the #RIT “hashtag”). Yes, I said “great things”—even though much of the initial feedback was not supportive of President Destler’s decision. In social media, though, along with accuracy and speed, transparency is of utmost importance.

We discovered that many print and TV reporters—sometimes now referred to as traditional or “old” media—also got the story first from social media. So, what did we do when they came calling? In the old days, we might’ve held a traditional news conference. But, it’s the 1990s no more….

Read Destler on WITR: ‘Old media’ shines anew


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