Apparently, I am the first guinea pig for a new AJC Twitter account.
A few nights ago, I complained on Twitter about the AJC reprint permission form being down. I wanted to post an Atlanta Constitution clip from the 1930s that featured my grandfather here. Unfortunately, after I filled out the form, it crapped out on a 404 page. I then went on to fill out the form on the stacks page (yes, there are at least two request permission forms for AJC articles). A couple of days later, the ajchelps account followed me and responded to my message. This piqued my curiosity since I was the first person they had responded to, so I contacted them and asked some questions.
What follows is an email Q&A with AJC employees Chris Heisel and Jennifer Morrow. Heisel is Director of Online Development, and Morrow is External Communications Manager. Also referenced is Alan Segal, Director of Audience Development. Questions and answers are unedited.
Full disclosure: I have never worked for any Cox-owned company, but my girlfriend Amber is a former employee of COXnet, which operates mostly-separately from the AJC’s online outfit.
- RT: How did the idea for the ajchelps Twitter account form? And from whom (editorial, tech, management, etc.)?
CH: I don’t know if the idea sprung from any one spot. We both had set up some AJC twitter accounts (@ajc and @ajcalerts) before to feed headlines and news updates to our audience on Twitter. These seemed like a logical extension once folks started twittering about problems with the site.
- RT: How would you describe the basic utility of this account? What problem does it solve?
CH: It’s pretty simple. Folks can follow and @reply or direct message ajchelps if they’re having a problem with ajc.com and we’ll try and solve it or direct the problem to folks who can. We also set up an account with getsatisfaction.com to facilitate that kind of communication.
- RT: Are you familiar with the comcastcares Twitter account? If so, what are your thoughts for how your plans compare to what Comcast has done?
CH: I’m not a Comcast customer, but I found out about comcastcares at the Web 2.0 conference this year. I thought it was a great way to engage users!That plus the problem you were having certainly inspired the creation of the account.
- RT: How does the idea of answering questions on Twitter tie into the AJC 2.0 strategy Julia Wallace has laid out?
JM: We believe it’s important to communicate to our readers using the channels they most prefer. Social media will play an important role when we launch our enhanced Sunday newspaper in early 2009. Since we’re still six plus months away from the launch, we’re now working on how best to use the various communication channels available to us, including Twitter.
- RT: How did you find the gripe I posted to Twitter since the ajchelps account wasn’t following me prior to that?
CH: There are a couple of Twitter search services, we used Summize (now search.twitter.com) and TweetScan to look for anything with the words “ajc” in it.
- RT: How many and what sorts of AJC issues other than mine have you noticed on Twitter?
CH: I don’t have any firm numbers on hand, but anecdotally I haven’t seen many issues twittered, just yours and a few others. We’ve gotten some feature suggestions from some of our Twitter users. Someone asked for the feed that we send to @ajc to be made available with just the headline and the link — hence @ajcheadlines.
- RT: What sorts of questions might be better answered on Twitter than in other media?
CH: I don’t know if there any particular questions that are better suited to Twitter than to other media, per se. But it is a good medium for establishing a dialogue with users, and a particularly good listening device.
- RT: Who will be responsible for monitoring issues on Twitter, and how much time do you expect them to spend doing so per day (or week or month)?
CH: Right now it’s just Alan and I. It doesn’t take a lot of time out of our day, so far. I just include it in my list of feeds I regularly sweep in NetNewsWire.
- RT: Once you ensure the web site is functioning properly and that’s no longer someone’s issue, will you be able to pursue the issue further to make sure it’s resolved? For example: It’s been more than two business days since I submitted my article reprint request. I haven’t heard anything back, even though on the form it says someone will get back to me in two business days.
CH: I think that’s a great point, and something we’d certainly keep in mind as we get more adept in using Twitter and GetSatisfaction.com and other social media as part of our customer service.
- RT: Of the buyouts which were offered to long-time employees recently, roughly how do they break down across departments? i.e. advertising, editorial, ajc.com, etc.
JM: To remain the leading media company in the Atlanta market, the AJC will continue to take steps to improve performance, including developing new products, reallocating resources and seeking efficiencies. The current staff reductions, which will occur in late August, will take place primarily in News and Revenue (specifically, Advertising Sales and Operations). To ease the transition to the new department structures, the company first offered voluntary separation programs to eligible News and Revenue employees. As of the deadline of July 31, 73 News employees and 136 Revenue employees have opted to participate in the voluntary separation programs. Despite these changes, the AJC remains the area’s largest newsgathering and media sales organization.