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How Should TV Critics Use Twitter and Other Social Media? — IndieWire Survey

Critics weigh in on cryptic tweets, selfies, subtweeting and more in the line of work.

Hanh Nguyen, Cookie Monster, PBS, TCA

IndieWire’s Senior Editor Hanh Nguyen takes advantage of a photo opp with Cookie Monster at PBS’ Television Critics Association press day



Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)

This week’s question: How should TV critics use social media in their work, if at all?

James Poniewozik (@poniewozik), New York Times

My only real rule is that social media is, well, social, so I don’t want to get chummy with artists and performers I might write about. And I break that rule plenty. I have several showrunners, writers, etc., that I started following back before I started thinking about this sort of thing and they’re sort of grandfathered in. (As for TV-adjacent artists: I live in a world where I can follow Margaret Atwood on Twitter; how can I not?) I don’t think it’s an ethical principle — I just work better on the “the rock stars are not your friends” principle. What I don’t do, more or less strictly, is @ any stars or showrunners with reviews, praise or comments. That is the road to insanity.

Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine

Oh god, I think I do all of this and am probably the worst person to ask about it. As someone who sees himself as garbage with no boundaries, I probably overshare and annoy folks. I tweet shit that gets people mad, I subtweet when other journalists are being thirsty tools — they know who they are; the ones who @ mention celebs in tweets to make sure the star sees that they are talking about them but isn’t actually addressing them, post tweets that are clearly meant for the TV-promo blurb, or love to Vaguebook about their secret set visits or lunches — I tweet out my work, I post links everywhere, I Insta some of my workouts and dogs pics. I try to “like” or RT the work of colleagues, even if they write for a competitor because they’re friends (and yeah, don’t think I haven’t noticed the ones who NEVER return the favor or come to my defense when some troll comes at me) and I live-tweet shows out the butt. It’s great for self-promotion, brand promotion and info sharing, but I honestly try more than anything to just have fun and maybe make some people laugh. I get fired up and lose objectivity sometimes, mostly about real-life things, not like plots or cast changes. And I love doing FB Lives for TV Guide Magazine. We get some great talent and it’s a much looser experience, so they have more fun. So basically, I think critics should use social media the way they choose, as long as they are willing to deal with any possible backlash, requests that could be solved by a simple Google search and angry phone calls from publicists who want to know why you just trashed their show on 11 platforms. Because it does happen.

Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire

I don’t feel like I’m anyone to tell people how to handle their social media presences, mostly because I don’t put much dedicated thought into my approach — personally, I don’t share everything I publish, and save most of my tweets for whatever I’m watching lately, other peoples’ comments that make me laugh, interesting political or socially inclined tweets I want to signal boost, and of course making fun of my co-workers. The one real constant I’ve observed seems to be you get out of it what you put into it, and I do try to maintain some sort of professional distance from the people I write about (though every once in a while, you gotta throw a mention if you’re going to get some necessary traffic). Moderation is my big thing, along with trying to pretend to a level of chill-ness I lack in my real world interactions. Other people who will be surveyed for this list seem to have a great deal more success with using social media to promote their work. But I prefer to operate at this level of engagement, one that leaves me feeling comfortable with my status as both a professional journalist and a human being.

Eric Deggans (@deggans), NPR

I’ve always felt the best criticism is a conversation; with your audience, with your subject and with the world. Social media can amplify and enable that conversation in so many ways. Tweeting links to your work is the most rudimental part of it; and selfies with stars, though I have indulged in my share, can feel too much like humblebragging at times. But live-tweeting and posting on social media about events like the Super Bowl, Oscars or Emmys often helps me learn things from the audience which helps my coverage. I often see the best work done by my friends and fellow critics by stalking their social media feeds. I’ve connected with more than a few story subjects through social media. And the conversations I’ve had with fellow critics has always left me smarter and more appreciative of all the talented people doing this work. But ultimately, social media helps extend my brand as a commentator on all the subjects I cover, from television and pop culture to race and journalism ethics. It’s a crucial way of bypassing gatekeepers and speaking directly with an audience interested in what you have to say…as even our president has discovered in recent years.

Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter

The Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg and Crystal the Monkey at NBC’s Television Critics Association press tour day

Daniel Fienberg

I like that this question practically demands that we subtweet each other, so I’m trying to think of the other folks who regularly answer these questions so that I can specifically poop on the things they all do in social media. The answer, of course, is that there is no rule and everybody’s standards of professionalism are different, just as everybody’s comfort with adopting new media is different. I tweet my own work, tweet rather obsessively as an extension of my own voice and I often tweet with/at other critics, generally with obnoxious replies nobody asked for. To each their own! I tweet with some showrunners, but rarely about their specific/current work and rarely (never?) to instigate conversations. Again, to each their own! If I moderate an event, I’ll tweet or RT pictures of me with the panels, but I don’t think I’ve ever taken a selfie with a star and posted it. I wouldn’t do that. Unless that star were a monkey. In that case, I’d do it over and over and over again. So what is social media for if you’re a critic? Tweeting your work, extending the brand of your voice, making people jealous of you if you’re in Austin eating BBQ, and posting pictures of yourself with famous monkeys.

April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics

Instagram and Twitter are what I use mostly all the time for work. Twitter is a useful and easy to follow feed where something of interest can be followed and shared. I mute the navel gazers, natterers, selfie addicts, politically obsessed and excessively profane…unless you are really goddamned funny!

Initially, I used Twitter completely differently than I do now, more as a direct communication. Not so much now. Twitter serves as a bulletin board for features and interviews on the site. It’s also a nice way to let your peers know you are paying attention to their work and that you appreciate their POV. Or it is used to retweet things that I appreciate or that are of interest …for whatever the reason. I’ve made some nice friendships and professional relationships connecting by chance on Twitter.

Of all the socials, it is Instagram I enjoy the most. I think it is far more interesting to see a creative visual composition that captures a feeling or moment, it certainly says more than a tossed out remark made in passing. Instagram also gives me insight into how someone’s brain works and makes me appreciate a person’s overall POV even more.

Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox

I have shifted my #social #media #branding #strategy in recent years to better maximize my potential for audience growth. Where once I expressed opinions and got into arguments about television, I now mostly make stupid jokes and retweet photos of #cute #animals (like the bear in a hammock). If I keep it up, I’ll soon be the biggest influencer among my friends.

More seriously, at a certain number of followers — and it was a shockingly low number! — using Twitter as a platform for having actual conversations ceased to be worth it for me, because there was so much noise to filter out for very little signal. (And this is to say nothing of Twitter’s problems with harassment and hateful slurs.) But I also don’t begrudge any TV critic how they use any social media platform. They’re good for networking, and I follow a bunch of TV writers who give me ideas for stories in their chatter.

For me, the problem is always less with social media and more with the individual writer. I have made friends within the industry thanks to social media connections, but if I’m asked to review something they’ve worked on, I just don’t. Granted, that line is made blurrier by social media than it might have in the era when we all had to send carrier pigeon messages to each other, but I don’t functionally see a similarity between a handful of tweets sent back and forth and an actual relationship. The line is up to every journalist to define for themselves.

Also: Follow all your favorite TV writers/critics/journalists on Instagram. We’re all having more fun there anyway.

Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Uproxx

I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to social media. On top of using it as a vehicle for self-promotion, I find it valuable as a place to talk to other critics, and to see what non-critics are thinking about various shows. When I’ve engaged with showrunners or actors on Twitter, it tends to be more joking around than actual debate; I respect the opinions of critics who feel there should be a complete separation between critics and the people whose work they critique, but I have no problem with some playfulness now and again. There’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed, but my definition of it is like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

The one rule I feel strongly about for myself — and that will lead me to unfollow people who disagree — is to not spoil significant things on social media in a way that can’t be avoided. I don’t live-tweet scripted shows, I don’t include headlines revealing that a character has died, etc. If you click on something I’ve written, there will probably be spoilers at that link, but you have to make that choice, as opposed to being unable to avoid the news because you’re not on Eastern time, or are a few days behind on something.

Gail Pennington (@gailpennington), St. Louis Post-Dispatch

I can’t imagine that there’s any answer to how critics should use social media other than “however their editors tell them to.” There are analytics on these things, and my editors tell me that we get the best traffic from linking from Facebook, so that’s what I do first. I have a Facebook page where all the links go. Everything I post also auto-links on Twitter, and I share those. But if you just post links, unless they’re scoops, people can start ignoring you. I think a more important thing to do is to be present on social media, developing relationships, finding out what other people are thinking and what they are interested in, both other critics and non-professionals. Exchanging ideas. Replying and responding. My weekly live chats use Scribble, not Facebook Live, although we may be moving in that direction. We also do videos and podcasts that are shared via social media. Selfies with people you’ve just interviewed make me uncomfortable, but if the bosses loved them, I’d be posting them all the time.

Erik Adams (@EricMAdams), A.V. Club

I’ve been on Twitter for almost as long as I’ve had a byline, and yet I still get a weird feeling in my stomach whenever I promote my own work on the feed. There’s no reason I should — practically every one of my peers uses some sort of social media to bring their writing to the masses, and there’s so many of us doing this work for so many publications that we can’t afford not to. That inherent hesitancy prevents me from prescribing what any other critic should and shouldn’t use social media for, but I do have my own personal set of rules that I try to abide by: Don’t @ talent or show accounts in negative appraisals, don’t go overboard with the hashtags (especially the joke ones, something I’ve been guilty of in the past), mute hostile accounts (let ’em vent their spleens into the abyss without the satisfaction of getting the “blocked” message) but kill mildly indignant readers with kindness. And then there’s a whole separate set of rules for interacting on social during press tour, where the dictates of maintaining professionalism and decorum as a representative of the Television Critics Association bump up against that temptation to scream during the eighth or ninth press conference of the day. In those cases, social media can be a crucial release valve — at least until the bar opens.

Tim Surette (@timsurette), TV.com

There’s no absolute right way for TV critics to use social media. Tweeting your work and practicing your off-the-cuff wit or lack thereof seems pretty standard. And everybody loves a good back-and-forth between the esteemed of the profession or luminaries in the biz and some even like a good GIF reaction.

But there sure are some wrong ways to use social media! As an old person, I don’t understand it all, but I do use Twitter so let’s focus on that. (Disclaimer: I am terrible at Twittering.)

– Don’t put out cryptic tweets about screeners no one else has seen yet.
– Don’t start tweets with “In which” because… just don’t.
– Don’t say something to the effect of “I’m sitting on hot scoop but can’t say anything right now” because that’s just cruel.
– Don’t talk about how you are stuck in an airport or on the tarmac; that’s your own personal Hell, don’t drag us into it.
– Don’t complain about press sites.
– Don’t forget to send out your DMs as DMs and not public messages that will gross everyone out.
– Yep, we know there are a lot of people at Comic-Con, you can skip that tweet.
– No one cares if the TCA ballroom ran out of Diet Coke.
– And for God’s sake, if you’re going to post a picture of food from ATX, make it a good picture. Some of us are trying to eat over here.

Joyce Eng (@joyceeng61), TVGuide.com

This reminds me of when it was “recommended” to my co-workers and me to get Twitter. Not long after, I had to cover Ashton Kutcher and CNN’s race to one million Twitter followers, which led to a debate between my old editor and me about whether we should write “tweeted” or “posted on Twitter.” Oh, the quaint days of 2009. Anyway, I would never tell anyone how to use social media to promote their work; that’s their prerogative. But I will say it can get a little extra sometimes. Plus, it’s just improper Twitter etiquette to tag talent in a conversation that is negative or really has nothing to do with them (this is obviously not exclusive to TV folk). And while I’ve never done so and don’t necessarily think you should, if you wanna engage with trolls too, I can in a way respect that. I just don’t have the time or energy. I do, however, love a good subtweet.

Ben Travers(@BenTTravers), IndieWire

As a firm believer that nothing I do is all that interesting and everything I write is terrible (except for this), it’s a constant struggle to social my own work. “Do I have to social this story?” is something I ask myself regularly. “Do I tag people?” “Should I tag the show’s official page?” “Is it appropriate?” “Would they want to read this?” “Does it feel like begging?” All of these insecurities often steer me away from tweeting or Facebook-ing at all, but then my professional side kicks in and says, “Damn it, Ben. This is part of your job. Do your job!”

And I do feel it’s part of a critic’s job these days, given they’re employed by a specific outlet, to social their work in some fashion. (Freelancers can do whatever they damn well please.) But worries over when and how take up far too much time and would’ve led me to quit Twitter entirely if it wasn’t for my professional obligation (bravo to those who have left). So I’ve adopted the following rules to help ease my social anxiety:

  • If I interviewed someone, I usually tag them. They might want to make sure what I wrote was a truthful representation of our conversation, after all.
  • If I think an article or tweet is relevant to a larger fanbase (a.k.a. more than those in my feed), I’ll hashtag or tag the appropriate parties.
  • I love talking to critics on Twitter, but rarely jump into existing conversations. I like it when others do, but they typically don’t need to hear from me.
  • I love talking to TV fans on Twitter, but sometimes I miss tweets or don’t know how to respond.
  • I retweet what I love and like what I like, no matter the source.
  • Gifs and unique photos are always better than other media or no media.

As you can see, these are very personalized rules. I can make no claim as to what critics as a group should do, for everyone is different — different relationships, different perspectives, differing levels of confidence. I will say this: No one should tag people in tweets that are negative, be it a bad review or a mean comment (unless they need to be told, a la Timothy Simons’ regular messages to a certain “clown.”) It’s not how one should behave, online or off.

If you like these things, maybe you’ll like my feed. If not, that’s fine, too. But clearly, I need to stop worrying about it.

Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*

A: TIE: “Better Call Saul,” “Fargo,” “Twin Peaks” (three votes each)

Other contenders: “The Handmaid’s Tale” (two votes), “The Carmichael Show” and “Master of None” (one vote each)

*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.

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