Straight to the Source: Interviewing via Twitter

Corellas, by Nick Moir (@nampix). Used with permission.

TOPIC: Using Twitter to find a person to interview.

THE CHALLENGE: A short interview with someone you find on Twitter who could be considered a household name. For example, students last year managed to conduct short interviews with Premier Barry O’Farrell, entertainer Dave Hughes, and veteran journo Peter Harvey. You can choose anyone you like, but one word of advice: keep your ambitions realistic. You’re less likely to get a response from Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga than you are from someone local, for example Magda Szubanski. You must ask, and receive responses to, at least three questions. You can find people on Twitter in two ways: 1) use the search field on the Twitter site; or 2) Google “name+Twitter”. The latter method works pretty well – if your chosen interviewee has a Twitter account, their account will turn up in the search results. One tip: check their past tweets to ensure their account is active.

YOU MAY conduct your interview using another means of communication (email, phone, face to face) but you must be able to show that your first approach was made to your subject via Twitter.

READ: Some guidelines by Dan Reimold. He’s not a fan of using Twitter to approach people for interviews, but gives some good advice here anyway: Twitter Interview Requests: #Innovative or #Epicfail?  And a couple of reasons you should use Twitter to interview, offered by blogger Jeff Goins on his blog.


Twitter must drive PR people crazy, for a number of reasons. One, it’s very hard to use it to spread information of a promotions and marketing nature – Twitter’s too much of a conversation for people to just swallow spin. It’s extremely easy for a PR message to spiral out of control, ending in a marketing disaster (which isn’t to say it’s not a lot of fun to watch!)

If you’re a PR agent for a celeb, the person you represent can tweet on their own behalf, rather than having you run their account. That means anyone and everyone can tweet questions and requests at them, cutting you out of the exchange entirely. Annoying!

But journalists and curious media students love Twitter for that very reason – we can approach someone directly without having to negotiate with a team of minders. 2011 Diploma student Brian managed to conduct a pretty extensive interview with Barry O’Farrell which would never have happened if he’d been forced to follow the traditional paths necessary to obtain an interview. As a TAFE student, he couldn’t even have leapt the first hurdle: the media advisor. Brian might have tried to email O’Farrell directly, but the Premier’s email accounts are managed by those same advisors. And unless you’re a very senior political correspondent there’s no way of catching O’Farrell on the phone. So what’s an enterprising J-school student to do? Tweet!

In your efforts to find someone to interview, you should think of a few likely names, in case you have no luck with your first attempts. You need to find your intended interviewee on Twitter, and direct a tweet “@” them. It’s very important to introduce yourself, remain polite, and use proper English (not text-speak). Because it’s very hard to do all of that in a 140-character message, it’s ok to send more than one tweet. You might indicate that your first tweet is one of three, for example, by adding “1/3” to the end of it, then “2/3” to the next, and “3/3” to the final one. Another way of getting around the length issue is to use Twitlonger, which allows you to use more than 140 characters in a tweet. I urge you to try the former method first, because it’s easier for your targeted interviewee to read three quick tweets in succession from you than it is to go to a third-party net-based app.

Before you approach your interviewee, do some research and find out a bit about them. Decide on a theme to your interview, and write some questions. Because your interview will most likely be short and sweet, you might think of an unusual or surprising theme – one example from last year was a series of questions about what the person had on their iPod, and why. You might also ask about current events or issues, such as politicians’ entitlements, or same sex marriage. Your questions should be clear and to the point, because it will be awkward for your interviewee to ask for clarification or explanation. Remember: if you get a”yes” from your target, he or she may mean right now, so you want to be prepared.

Have fun!


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