How Twitter Saved My Sanity in Vermont

In my previous life, I was the sports editor of two small, weekly newspapers in upstate Vermont. Let me rephrase that. In my previous life, I was the first sports editor that two small, weekly newspapers in upstate Vermont had ever had.

Seeing as how I was walking into uncharted territory, my first order of business was to build up a list of contacts within the community, ranging from high school athletic directors to pee-wee coaches.

I quickly realized that the athletic communities in both towns were not as dependent on e-mail or the Internet as I had been accustomed to. In fact, neither of the two newspapers that I was employed by had websites. Phone calls and in-person interviews became the only means of interaction, whatsoever. In other words, if you weren’t at the event, you had no way of knowing what happened.

After approximately six months of my “Sorry if I’m disturbing you during dinner” apologies, I began researching how I could implement a change to the way the towns’ athletic communities communicated. There had to be a better way of communicating with coaches, players and even parents than leaving messages on their answering machines and hoping to get a call back.

That was when I decided to bring Twitter to two small towns in Vermont.

Twitter had already begun creeping into the mainstream media as a source for breaking news. The largest newspaper in the state had started using Twitter more and more the previous year. However, there wasn’t an active community in Vermont. Instead, those who used Twitter were mostly reporters themselves from across the state helping one another out.

And nowhere did the Twitterverse have a larger impact than in the reporting of high school sports.

Sports reporters from across the state had already begun to use Twitter as a way to relay results, give a virtual play-by-play for big high school games or meets and even collaborate on stories. All of the sports reporters from across the state had each other’s back on Twitter. We made sure we had our stats correct, helped each other out with headlines and even had spirited banter back and forth from reporter to reporter.

However, there was very little interaction outside of the reporters at the game. The information was being sent out through Twitter and was floating without purpose. None of the fans, the students, or anyone else really knew what we were doing.

Over the next six months, I developed a content marketing program that joined parents, school administrators, coaches, journalists and fans.. I live-tweeted from every single game I attended. I teased upcoming stories. I interacted with the student cheering sections by posting photos or videos. I tweeted schedules and breaking news. I paid to run advertisements in our newspapers with my Twitter handle .

My Twitter feed put our newspapers back on the map, as my tweets were used throughout the state across several media platforms as I live-tweeted a high school boys soccer brawl between a parent and high school students, and again, two months later, when a similar fight broke out during a playoff high school boys hockey game.

Within a year, I began interacting with several hundred Twitter accounts of community members from both towns. It was one of the most unified efforts I have ever been a part of.

The biggest area of impact was with the students at the high schools. I knew from the start that they were going to be my target audience, and had really hoped to get them on board with my Twitter movement.

The students from both high schools interacted with me on a daily basis, updating me on team news, or out-of-town scores. The student sections even began bringing signs with their Twitter handles and asking me to  re-tweet them during games. From there, the parents began to follow along as well. By the following school year, high school teams began to create team Twitter handles, where they could update information on their team to their followers such as game cancellations or team fundraisers. It was official: Twitter became a mainstream method of communicating with my readers.

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