The trouble with Twitter sources

The head of one of the big consultancies recently asked me who were the bloggers for whom I had most respect. Rather than answer I asked why he wanted to know.

Anthony Hilton: Twitter as a source
Anthony Hilton: Twitter as a source

His answer was that part of his pitch to clients nowadays is not his ability to get to journalists, but to get to the bloggers who influence those journalists.

It struck a chord. One of the surveys published in the past few weeks showed a surge in the number of journalists using Twitter as a source when writing news stories. That comes as no surprise because it is hard these days to read any news report without coming across some comment sourced from Twitter.

Obviously it makes a lot of sense but there are problems. One, of course, is that you can never quite be sure of the provenance of Twitter comments.

Second, in the days before Twitter, reporters used to phone sources one after the other until they found one with something useful and insightful to say. Today one gets the sense Twitter comments are often picked up because of who said them. They add little to the story.

There is also a quality problem. Using Twitter as a primary source often means journalists are not bothering to find and talk to those less famous people who nevertheless have real knowledge of the subject.

The last point is one uncovered by Compeer, a financial services research house, in a study of comms between wealth managers and their clients. It noted that the elderly and the wealthy were turned off by Twitter. This is largely because the ephemeral nature of electronic communication sits uneasily with the image of gravitas people like to associate with those to whom they have entrusted their money. Chief executives who think they are doing themselves good by tweeting to shareholders might care to think about this.

It is not too much of a stretch to see this same sentiment in newspaper readers who, at the quality end of the market, are older and more affluent. They too want to feel that what they are reading has been put together with some knowledge and thought. That is rarely the impression conveyed by Twitter.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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