Dispatches From a First-Time Live-Tweeter

Feb 27, 2012

WUSF reporter Bobbie O'Brien live-tweeted for the first time (although you would think she has done this hundreds of times before) earlier this month. During the Florida event — a presentation by Tuskegee airmen -- O'Brien sent 27 tweets and snapped five photos, while simultaneously prepping for her radio story. She later produced the radio piece and compiled her tweets into a Storify package. After catching her breath, O'Brien was kind enough to share her experience in a Q&A with me.

Why did you decide to start live-tweeting?

Tampa is hosting the Republican National Convention in August. Prior to that I wanted to be well practiced in the skill that lends itself to "live reporting" beyond radio reporter "debriefs."

How did it go?

Quickly! It amazed me how quickly the 90 minutes passed. In preparation for the event, I was concerned that I would find enough "interesting" information to share. That was not a problem. One drawback though, you can't log audio times and important sound bites while tweeting. So, finding the right audio for my radio story later that day was more of a challenge.

What did you use (technology-wise) to do the actual live-tweeting?

I used my iPhone with a stylus I borrowed from my husband because the keys are smaller and I wanted to prevent typos. I could have used a laptop computer. However, I was also carrying a Marantz recorder, microphone, headphones and cable. So, I chose to go lighter with the iPhone and it was manageable -- just slightly slower for me to type than a computer keyboard.

What advice would you give others who want to try live-tweeting?

Preparation is key! Also, loosen up! I used to have a supervisor who would say, "Hey, it's only live radio." Well, that can be applied to live-tweeting. The sky is not going to fall if you have a typo, just be prepared to send a quick, corrected follow-up.

How did you prepare ahead of time?

-I read several tip sheets on what to expect, pitfalls and fallbacks.

-I established a special hashtag for the event.

-The day before, I posted on my blog and tweeted that I would be following the event via live tweets.

-I prepared a "cheat sheet" of sorts with the proper name spellings, ages and other pertinent info on the main characters so information was accurate and it helped with my speed.

-I prepared a timeline ahead of time: what to tweet upon arrival, what to tweet when the event started, took photos prior to send during the event, and had an outline of what the final tweet would say.

What was most challenging?

Dealing with the auto-correct on the iPhone -- I sometimes didn't notice it had changed my wording until too late. It cost me time going back and correcting the wording and was responsible for two typos.

What did you like most about live-tweeting?

One of the tip sheets I read prior to the event said the "live tweet timeline" could be used as an outline for a future story. My timeline helped me cover the event, make an hour drive back to my station and still write and produce a depth on-air that afternoon.

What would you have done differently?

Maybe bring my laptop computer for tweets or bring along someone to help log the audio. I also would have worked to get more information out about the event to generate more followers. Maybe, I would work with the folks at the event and encourage them to re-tweet the hashtag established for the event.

Do you plan on live-tweeting again at some point?

Yes, at the very least, I expect to do some live-tweeting during the August RNC in Tampa. But, I suspect there will be opportunities prior to that. What's interesting is that having done it, I find myself studying others who are doing it like the Grammys which were held just after my live event. I learned a lot more just following comments and got a better "what's up next" schedule than what was being aired on TV.