2013 was a big year for The New York Times’ social media staff; they added three editors to their team, expanded their role in tweeting the news, and grew @NYTimes by nearly 5 million followers.

Last week they took to the Nieman Journalism Lab to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Although the post was intended for newsrooms, many of their lessons can be adapted by any organization’s social media team.

Social Media’s Human Element

Social media automation has a few benefits – it helps your feed stay live in the evenings or days your team is unable to consistently tweet.

However, as NYT’s staff has learned from automation gone wrong, “our Twitter accounts are better when we staff them.”

When a headline was auto-tweeted implying Andy Murray of Scotland was English, the mistake snowballed in a way it wouldn’t have had a social media editor been there. Their team has caught and quickly fixed similar errors.

“When our hands are minding the feed,” the @NYTimes team wrote, “errors like that either don’t happen or have less of an impact.”

Instead of auto-tweeting your blog posts as they are published, have your social media team take a second look and manually tweet them. In addition to catching a glaring error the original author may have missed, they may also come up with something better for the tweet.

The best headlines don’t always make the most engaging tweets. For instance, the headline “The Rock ’n’ Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero” did not perform nearly as well on Twitter as @NYTimes’ rewrite:

The Rock ’n’ Roll Casualty Who Became a War Hero nyti.ms/16Md6mL

The New York Times (@nytimes) July 02, 2013

He got kicked out of both Nirvana and Soundgarden. Then he became a war hero nyti.ms/17S3szX

The New York Times (@nytimes) July 07, 2013

Monitoring the original tweet helped @NYTimes see that they needed a different approach for social media.

Tweet What’s Interesting and Helpful to Your Audience

Not surprisingly, breaking news tweets about the Boston Marathon, Supreme Court rulings, George Zimmerman, and Nelson Mandela were among @NYTimes’ most clicked and retweeted last year.

The public has historically turned to The New York Times in times of major events to stay informed and updated. It’s what audiences expect in the print and online editions, as well as on social media.

Subsequently, The New York Times’ social media desk works “in concert with, not independent of, our main newsdesk.” They coordinate with their reporters and editors to send out tweets tied to their news coverage.

We say it all the time: Know your audience. Know why they turn to you and how your products and services can help them. Know what interests your audience and pick content for your social media posts that reflects that.

Just as the NYT team coordinates with their news desk, your social media team should coordinate with your product teams, customer service, sales, marketing, and PR. Everyone will develop a better understanding of your organization’s audience, and you’ll provide consistently helpful content across all of your platforms.

Don’t Lose Your Tweet in Crafty Clutter

The New York Times experiments with their tweets, occasionally putting posts out there that are witty or tease the story they’re trying to get people to click on.

However, they learned a simple tweet that sets clear expectations for the article was often the most effective. If readers could quickly determine what they were going to get by clicking on an article link, they were more likely to click.

When writing tweets, headlines, and lead paragraphs, a funny, cute, or extreme turn of phrase may grab readers’ attention. However, don’t let it go too far and steal attention away from the actual story.

If your content and call to action get lost in the pursuit of wit, there’s no point.

Revisit and Recycle – with Restraint

Even a well-written tweet can get lost in the sheer volume of other tweets. And sometimes a person may see a tweet that interests them, but want to go back to it at a more convenient time.

This is why The New York Times schedules multiple tweets around one article. They found that tweets scheduled on Saturday and Sunday had a much higher click-per-tweet.

Weekends may not see a lot of traction for your company’s social media; however, everyone can benefit from experimenting with their tweets’ timing. Schedule the same tweet throughout the week at different times of day. Then monitor the results for a pattern of higher engagement.

However, as The New York Times cautions, show restraint. Don’t schedule duplicates of everything. Keep an eye out for tweets that worked well the first time, and choose tweets that link to the most interesting, evergreen content. For instance, breaking news first tweeted on Monday was no longer of interest the following Sunday.

Lessons from PR Newswire’s Twitter Distribution Network

We try to follow these best practices not only on @PRNewswire, but also our Twitter Distribution Network of nearly 50 industry news accounts.

The human element plays a significant role in these accounts’ success. From @PRNpolicy to @PRNtech, a team of social media ambassadors consisting of volunteers from across the company curates content relevant to the industry topic of the Twitter account.

Curators volunteer to cover topics that interest them; they understand what sort of content audiences want because they’re part of that audience.

“Our volunteer curators are part of the topic communities they tweet about,” says Victoria Harres, VP of audience development and social media for PR Newswire. “Most of them are very passionate about the content they volunteer to curate and it shows. Our Twitter network of curators was the reason PR Newswire won a 2013 IMA Impact award for Twitter.”

Wire content also appears on these feeds through our SocialPost service.

Clients provide a tweet that is sent over three of our Twitter accounts with a link to their news release. The tweets are staggered a few hours apart to increase their effectiveness.

We encourage clients to follow the above best practices when writing their tweet. The press release headline can be used as the tweet if it’s short enough and interesting. However, when looking at six months of SocialPost data, one of the most-clicked links belonged to a tweet that took a different approach than the release headline: “How to Handle a Medical Emergency” was rewritten for SocialPost as “Find tips for handling senior medical emergencies in this easy-to-use infographic”.

To have your company news appear on PR Newswire’s Twitter distribution network, select SocialPost on our News Release Order Form. Additional tips on how to write a tweet can be found on PR Newswire’s Knowledge Center.

Join us for a free webinar titled “Newsworthiness: New Context & Opportunities for PR,” on January 23. What’s newsworthy? The very definition of “news” is changing, and this evolution creates the opportunity for PR pros to create timely content that earns credibility, earns media and generates ongoing (and relevant) visibility for the brand. Taking pages from the journalistic and content marketing playbooks, this webinar will include a discussion on the evolution of news, how to map the resources within your own organization and ways to identify different opportunities a responsive PR department can capitalize upon.