OPINION

Christopherson Column: We’re verified? Yes! Confused? Let me explain

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    Did I feel any different? It's possible that at the moment the congratulatory email arrived in my inbox, I tried to convince myself that I felt somewhat more confident, maybe a tad more...legitimate? Official? Uppity?

    Perhaps I looked different? I strolled through the dining room and out to the patio where my wife was enjoying some time in the sun to ask her if she'd noticed any change in my appearance. Nope, she said, I looked the same to her, as handsome as ever. And, she added, was I aware of the fact that I'd spilled some salsa on my shirt?

    She was right. I was going to have to throw my shirt down the laundry chute and head to the bedroom closet to find a different one. But that could wait.

    "We're verified!" I said.

    My announcement fell on unaware, ambivalent ears.

    "We're what?" she wondered. "What's that mean?"

    My possibly enhanced levels of confidence, legitimacy, official-ness and uppity-ness evaporated in an instant, carried away by the gale-force gusts blowing through the backyard on yet another windy day.

    The Crookston Times’ two Twitter accounts, I explained to my wife, @CrookstonTimes and @crookstonsports, had been verified.

    "Oh," she said. "Is that good?"

    More than good. In the “Twittersphere” it amounts to an earth-shaking development in the life-cycle of a Twitter account. But outside that sphere marked by the iconic little blue bird, it’s largely meaningless.

    By Twitter’s definition, to have the little checkmark by your account name, which means you’re officially “verified,” essentially means that you’re legitimate. Your account has status. The content you produce is authentic. It’s not fake news. It also means your organization has clout. The Crookston Times on its own in the global scope of digital and social media doesn’t possess a great deal of clout, but when you’re a part of the Gannett family that also happens to own USA Today, even if you have to sit at the kiddie table, you’re a part of something big.

    The Times Twitter account is very active and follows more Twitter accounts than it has Twitter followers. But to attract, accumulate and keep a great deal of followers – we had 1,086 the day before we were verified – is difficult when you’re basically only permitted to post direct links to content from your newspaper’s website. People scroll past because they want all of the information right there, they don’t want to have to clink a link to go to another website, where they may have to pay 33 cents a month – yes, that’s what a Times digital subscription costs – to read the actual, full story.

    But once you score that verified checkmark, a new day dawns. Our Twitter account has gained around 25 new followers since our verification only a few days ago, and some of them are predominant, widely known journalists from big-time news outlets.

    In reality, though, the euphoria will wane. It already is. We’ll lose some of those followers, after they realize they’re not tremendously interested in what our local city council or school board is up to, or that there was a police pursuit downtown, or that the local editor has a new puppy. The Times’ Twitter account is not provocative enough to stir the Twitter pot.

    Which, really, isn’t so bad. Former President Donald Trump made Twitter more impactful and noticed than it ever should have been or should be today because it was during his presidency and for many years prior to that his go-to medium to communicate with his devotees as well as his haters.

    But in the actual, real world, Twitter is a blip. It currently has an estimated 192 million daily, active users worldwide. That’s less than Snapchat and hundreds of millions less than Instagram. Facebook has 2.8 billion daily, active users. Even TikTok blows Twitter out of the water, with almost 700 million daily active users.

    But what Twitter has that those social media platforms largely lack is the possibility for the little guy, like the Times, to rub shoulders with the bigger guys, and for the Times to also engage those with even smaller shoulders than ours. On the same day our account was followed by a national journalist with almost a million followers, a self-described Minnesota “hockey mom” with a couple hundred followers, who likes to post about her favorite sport, her kids, politics now and then and the great Minnesota outdoors followed the Times. So we, in turn, followed her.

    “Thanks for the follow-back @Crookston Times!” she Tweeted moments later.

    Isn’t that what it should all be about in social media land? Quality content, mixed in with gratitude?

    You’re welcome, Minnesota hockey mom. And thank you for the follow.

Mike Christopherson, Crookston Times managing editor