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11:56

How do you ensure busy journalists see important tweets? Introducing 'The retweeter'

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Owning an story can be hard on social media when you operate a subscription model. Not all of our followers or fans have access to The Times or The Sunday Times and therefore can’t access the full article when you post a link from an account like @thetimes or @thesundaytimes. This means that people often read a rewritten version of our story on another news site. 

We thought about how we could change this and realised that our best weapon was our journalists, each with their own network of followers and fans. But we were asking a lot to expect them to keep track of stories breaking on social media (especially when on deadline) so we knew we needed a way of making it easy for them.

We enlisted the help of Alex Muller, a clever chap who up until recently for News International’s R&D Labs and now works over at gov.uk. We tasked him to come up with an easy way to send HTML email from company Gmail accounts inside the browser.

Alex used a copy of the Google Apps script available here which prompts the user for a recipient, a subject and gives space to input HTML email. The script authenticates against the Google Apps account you’re currently signed in with, and uses that to send the email.

He then created an HTML template to display a single tweet inside an
email, and used Twitter’s Web Intents to add links to simplify the
process for journalists and others to retweet - one click in the email,
and then one confirmation click on twitter.com to complete the action.

It’s a simple solution to the problem, and manages to sidestep some
headaches with authenticating a third-party application to send email from Gmail (which would have significantly increased the time required for the project).

The result of using ‘The retweeter’ is that our big stories reach more people. For example, The Sunday Times Insight team had a big story on lobbying in Westminster which was retweeted by 30 people, most of whom were Sunday Times staff. Twitter analytics showed us that this tweet had reach three times greater than our usual tweets.

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So if you see a Times or Sunday Times journalist retweet a big story, there’s a good chance we used ‘The retweeter’ to make it easy for them to do so. We’ll continue to use it on our big stories and perhaps look at developing a similar version for other networks where we see an opportunity. 

Thanks for reading.

- @benwhitelaw

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