Q&A | Talking Twitter
Talking Twitter with Bobby Blanchard of The Texas Tribune
Each month, Talking Twitter takes you behind the scenes of some of Twitter’s most interesting publishers with the social media professionals responsible for some of the platform’s standout Tweets and viral moments. This month we sat down with Bobby Blanchard, Director for Audience at The Texas Tribune, a publication committed to sharing the stories that make Texas headline-worthy news.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What makes @TexasTribune worth following on Twitter?
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, Texan journalism publication that is digital-first and digital-only. All of the journalism is free to be read and reprinted, so the content often finds itself in text-forward publications across the state.
On Twitter, we have a unique presence. Twitter is a space that’s home to a bunch of policy and political nerds and junkies, and Texas policy and politics is the bread and butter of what we do. It's all that we do, and we do it really well. Texas, as a state, often finds itself in national news moments, so we hope to help Texas residents navigate those national news moments. Also, we want to help explain the state to the rest of the country and sometimes the world.
This is one of the most interesting places to live, I think, in the country. It's a great place to be a journalist because there are so many important and crucial stories to be told. It's also a place where you have to understand the nuances of the state to approach it carefully.
Have you had any viral moments in your tenure on the team?
The Texas winter storm coverage in February 2021 was a huge moment that was very difficult and tragic, and many people lost their lives. We played a huge role in explaining what was happening. There was a lot of misinformation at that moment. People [were] saying that the reason why the state's power grid went down was because of frozen wind turbines and that was not the cause. We had a Twitter Moment that got picked up and got a lot of eyes on it that helped debunk that myth and help set the record straight.
What does it mean to be a social media manager in 2021?
Our presence has grown a lot, and we are much more intentional about what we do on social media than we were five years ago. In general, our guiding North Star philosophy on any social media platform is that anything we do needs to stand by itself on the platform. I know there are people who consume news predominantly on social media and don't go from website to website. They stay on the social media feed that they're on, and that means, if we have really important information, it needs to be in the posts on the platform.
I wouldn't want us to Tweet something like, “Click here for the deadline to register to vote in Texas.” I want us to Tweet, “The deadline to register to vote in Texas is January 31.” I want us to be specific because that's the way to be most helpful. I’ve been asked before, “Bobby, isn't that giving away the milk for free or whatever?” But in my general experience, I've seen that when you have an intentional social media presence, and when you create content — be it Tweets, Moments, photos, graphics, whatever that is native to the platform — that is going to lead to more followers and more people coming to your website anyway. It’s a symbiotic strategy that goes hand in hand.
How long have you been in social media, and how has the industry changed since you started out?
I first took a job in the field in 2016, which feels like a decade ago at this point. I think people take the industry more seriously, even more than they did back then. I used to be a reporter, so when I got hired, I remember the sentiment from people was that I was taking a career pivot to something less impactful. Today, people understand how important and valuable it is.
Clear, good, and concise information on social media can literally save someone’s life. The reality is that many people consume information via these platforms, they’ve developed the habit, and now we, as news organizations, have a responsibility to disseminate in a way that is most helpful.
Describe your relationship with Twitter.
Twitter is, honestly, my favorite social media platform. I’ve been able to customize it in a way that works for me to monitor news AND use it personally. It’s really easy for me to keep my thumb on what’s happening, and I have notifications on for almost 200 accounts. I have them set for accounts that are news-related like Patrick Svitek, but also just ones that bring me joy, like Thoughts of Dog and Frog and Toad Bot.
One of the things that brought me to journalism is that I love the power of knowledge and being informed on things. I like to be the one to tell others something is happening. Twitter has been that tool for me. Over the 10-plus years I've been on Twitter, the platform has grown a lot. It truly is a place where journalists, editors, and news organizations can make tons of content native to the platform. There’s more space to share all the information and important details in a Tweet. The caveat is the space limit, but the character limit has gone up. Plus, you can do Twitter threads, you can put Tweets in Moments, you can have live conversations [on Spaces], you can stream video — there's a lot more you can do on the platform. Some people still just treat it as a place to Tweet links and Tweet text, so there's room for everyone to realize the platform's full potential.
And if we could grant wishes, with the exception of the edit button, what’s the one feature you’d ask for?
I would mandate alt text. It blows my mind how many professionals who have the resources to include alt text don’t do it. My colleague Regina Mack, a leader in the industry, taught me everything I know about accessibility, and it just makes the whole timeline more accessible.
Throwing friendly shade at other accounts — yay or nay?
Yes, but only if everyone is having fun!
Including more than one hashtag — yay or nay?
Yes, but two max.
Using emojis to replace words — yay or nay?
Sparingly but yes, and make sure to keep accessibility in mind. I always think, “How will a Tweet full of emojis sound if it’s being read out loud to someone?”
How do you prioritize the different functions of your Twitter account?
Twitter is an urgent space. Context is the biggest priority for us because Texas is often making national news, and we try to provide that context ASAP. It’s the best way for your audience to have faith in you that you’re giving them the most important information first.
We use Twitter Moments when there is national news happening in Texas because we can include our journalism and the context to explain it to those in and out of the state. Our goal is to have our social feed reflect all the most important journalism, so we have a policy that we share links from other news organizations, too. Our staff size isn’t infinite; we’re not going to have every single story, and if there’s an important story that matters to our audience, I want it on our social feeds regardless of whether or not it came from our site. It’s a big way to participate in public conversations.
Tell us about a Tweet so good, you wish you'd written it.
This Washington Post Tweet from January 2018 about the bomb cyclone lives rent free in my mind. I think about it once a week because it was so clever and well-written. It’s a good example of when you can have a little fun on social media.
What accounts are a must-follow for you right now?
I think 19thnews has some of the best visual branding in the game, and they also make excellent Twitter Moments. I also love Breaking News as a catch-all account for urgent news outside of Texas. And Doomscrolling Reminder Bot is a much-needed source of relief.
But also obviously, The Texas Tribune and all of our journalists. Oh, and Jason Schreier is one of my favorite reporters who cover the video game industry, and he does such a stellar job.
Share a Tweet from your drafts folder with us.
Here’s a Tweet that I have no context for in my draft folder: It just says “nooooooooooooo” with like 40 O’s. I have no idea what that’s about, but given the news cycle for the last four years, I’m sure it’s relevant to something. Or everything.
Go behind the scenes with some of Twitter’s most interesting publishers and the social media professionals responsible for some of the platform’s standout Tweets and viral moments in the Talking Twitter collection.