Twitter can be a great resource for writers. As a freelance writer, I’ve used Twitter to find and contact sources that I would otherwise not have known about. I received an opportunity to write an article about an NBA basketball player, who had recently died.
Along with my other research, I used Twitter’s search function, available at search.twitter.com, to find people who had been taking about his death. I used additional terms, like “knew him, “friend,” and “met” to find the people who would be most useful for my article.
In addition, you can use Twitter’s search functionality to narrow your results in a variety of ways. One of my favorites is the “near:” function. If my publication were based in Kentucky, for example, I could use the following search to find sources for an article about gardening in the region:
“near:Kentucky planted garden -RT@”
This would help me find people who recently talked about planting a garden in or around Kentucky. “-RT@” helps me filter out some people who are just repeating others’ messages–this lets me get to the source of the best content.
Once I’ve found somebody whom I think might be a good contact, I click on his or her tweet to be taken to the user’s page. This shows me where they’re from, what other things they’ve been writing about, and how they describe themselves. From this information, I should be able to make an informed judgment call about whether or not it’s worth my time to try to contact them.
After I’ve decided that a person is worth investigating as a source, I send them a message using Twitter’s “@reply” feature. Make sure that you click the reply icon on the tweet that you want to respond to. This keeps the tweets linked together, making it easier for the user to see what you were responding to. It also keeps your message from appearing on the homepage of each of your followers–which can be useful if you’re sending very many interview requests.
I think it makes sense to follow anyone that you request an interview from. This allows them to DM (direct message) you with contact information that they might not like to send out over the public timeline. You can always unfollow them after your deadline has passed.
One word of warning: some users go on Twitter more frequently than others. It makes sense to make several more requests than the number of sources that you actually need. This way, if some take a long time to respond (or don’t respond at all), you’ll still be able to finish your story.