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Is CNN Still Missing the Conversation? – Twitter Profile: Rick Sanchez, CNN

10 August 2009
This profile was written for the University of Washington Twitter Book.

I analyzed the profile of news anchor Rick Sanchez for the UW Twitter Book. As Social Media flagship for CNN, my expectations for his use of Twitter were high. While his personal and human voice makes for a pleasant feed, it keeps me wondering if CNN is still missing out on the conversation on Twitter.

CNN is one of the most influential providers of news online (as they claim on their Breaking News Twitter account).
While CNN has embraced a number of uncommon technologies, #cnnfail has damaged CNN’s public and especially online image. When the criticism hit CNN, Rick Sanchez proactively talked about CNN’s coverage of the #iranelection. Sanchez is thus the most noticeable non-robotic CNN News provider tweeting, although other individuals have larger followings (namely Larry King & Dr. Sanjay Gupta)

@ricksanchezcnn - Uniting person and network. Do both come through?

@ricksanchezcnn - Uniting person and network. Do both come through?

Out of 100 Tweets: 40 @replies, 0 RTs, 13 internal/2 external Links (4 blog, internal, 2 external, 9 ext, but about him), 0 hashtags

42 FRP (From Rick’s Producer), 30 private, 9 promotional

Date data downloaded : Aug 06, 2009
Industry sector : NewsMedia

Twitter ID : @ricksanchezcnn
Followers : 104 711
Following : 40 405
Ratio followers/following : 1 : 2,59

Number posts : 3211
Account created : July 28th, 2008
First post : unknown

Bio:
Join Rick on CNN every weekday at 3pm ET

URLS:
Twitter : http://twitter.com/ricksanchezcnn
Bio link : http://ricksanchez.blogs.cnn.com/
Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/ricksanchezcnn
MySpace : www.myspace.com/ricksanchezcnn
LinkedIn : http://www.linkedin.com/pub/rick-sanchez/7/713/429
Org Blog : http://ricksanchez.blogs.cnn.com/
Org website home : http://cnn.com
Other : http://edition.cnn.com/twitter/

About:
Rick Sanchez is the flagship of CNN in the online world. In the industry, he is well known for his activities on his own CNN Blog as well as Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media.

(5) Analysis

A. General
(A.1) Background: Black, Blank, Boring.

Simplicity is nice, but this needs some work. Rick has too much to say to waste space like this!

(A.2) Avatar: Is well chosen. Rick in close up with a nice smile actually looks friendlier than on TV!

(A.3) Bio: For those who already know Rick, the Bio refers them to the show and the time it airs. Those who don’t know Rick will not find out from his profile easily. He takes “Bio-Link” literally. His location remains undisclosed to those unfamiliar with geographical coordinates.

Rick's Bio

Rick's Bio

Rick’s following/follower ratio is interesting. While I am at loss at how he would keep up with 40 000+ streams to follow, he does not appear to auto-follow. There is at least some selection.

(A.4) Transparency: You would think that on is individual profile only Rick is posting. However, fairly regularly his producer picks up that job. To our disappointment. These posts are tagged *FRP* = “From Rick’s Producer” in an effort for transparency, but there is no reference given on the profile or biolink. The unassuming reader takes a while to figure out this detail by reading through the feed.

(A.5) Bio Link: Links to Rick’s CNN Blog, which features an “about” column at the side. It explains briefly who Rick is and he also uses this page to invite people to engage online and follow him on Twitter. Combining the personal and the network.

B. Tweets
(B.1) Replies (also in Spanish) When Rick is tweeting himself, he regularly replies or even has conversations on his stream. Most of these conversations happen in English, but he also interacts in Spanish

(B.2) ReTweets: As a broadcaster, Rick is mostly focused on his own show and the network. Center of attention is Rick, retweeting doesn’t fit in this concept.

(B.3) DM requests: If Rick wants to continue a conversation, he usually points to his Blog. However, he does send DM requests. New followers get an automated DM pointing to the show time.

(B.4) Hashtags: Rick doesn’t seem to believe in hashtags. He doesn’t pick any up from other conversations. He appears too busy to read other conversations in the first place (IS CNN missing out on the conversation?) and he doesn’t use them to start conversations either.

(B.5) Favorite Tweet:

Rick's personal voice

Rick's personal voice

(B.6) Narrative summary:
Rick’s tweets are generally conversational and “human”. He frequently talks about private things involving family and friends without getting too personal. As a news broadcaster, the main focus of the conversation on his stream is Rick Sanchez – and the show. This is great for CNN and interesting for fans who want to learn more about Rick Sanchez the public figure. People trying to get insights in the back end of news will have to filter out the tweets about golf events and holidays. Rick’s pleasant if sometimes hurried style helps with that. The producer’s voice desperately trying to get people to react does not.

C. Questions/Suggestions
(C.1) Questions unearthed during analysis.:”What’s this producer doing here?”

Running a public figure account with two voices creates more noise than necessary. Rick’s personal tweet strategy targets the fan crowd and the interested occasional viewer. Using humor and personality, Rick keeps it interesting while managing to mention the Blog, and thus promoting the network (he alone has very low 10% promotional ratio).
FRP is a broadcasting voice that sometimes tells what Rick is up to and mainly targets people willing to give feedback on the show. The logic for combining the two voices in one stream is clear: The broadcasting voice is less attractive to follow and Rick’s fans are most likely to respond actively to queries, surveys and discussions.
However, at the current rate the broadcasting voice disrupts Rick’s balanced signal-to-noise ratio, making it a little more annoying than helpful.

(C.2) Suggestions for improvement
1. Kill the noise!
One of two things needs to happen for Rick to improve his tweeting. Send the producer voice to a “human voice” bootcamp or get rid of it altogether. The former would hopefully help the producer to understand that there is a limit to using Twitter for crowdsourcing and comment generation. In the latter case, Rick could do a little more mention of show related tweets (which would also be more effective), his followers would likely accept a slight increase of promotion up to 15-20%. Alternatively, there could be a separate show-account run by the producer, but I doubt it would be successful.

2. Start a conversation, online!
Although Rick does well on comments directed to him, there is not much of a conversation going on besides the one around Rick Sanchez. I couldn’t find follow-ups or conversation topics discussed. The Blog might indeed be a better forum for in depth discussion in the first place.
However, to start the conversation, Twitter would be a great place for Rick to go when working on a topic. It would give viewers an idea of what he is up to. It would also allow him to evaluate how much leverage a conversation might have and what different arguments and voices there are. The use of hashtags could increase the interest in these conversations. This would be a more conversational way of crowd sourcing his Twitter followers than the FPR posts.

3.Identification and Transparency

This is to Rick: Use your background! You’ve got something to say, don’t leave people searching for it!

While a customized background could help not only easy identification of both person and network, it would also be a chance to give a face to “Rick’s Producer”. Furthermore, it could be used to provide contact information, the Blog link and personalizing details/interesting facts about Rick himself (Providing news in two languages is a plus that deserves to be mentioned, isn’t it?). All this would make it easier on his fans and people who just discover Rick Sanchez.

E. Conclusion
(E.1) Narrative
When Rick Sanchez talks on Twitter, he talks mainly about Rick Sanchez. And that’s fine. But is it enough? As the flagship of Social Media for CNN, we would expect Rick Sanchez not just to be a good user, but a thought leader. That includes starting conversations online and discussing topics. Indeed, he does this on the blog, but Twitter is seldom involved in this. This echoes the accusations around #cnnfail that CNN is missing the conversation on Twitter.

Overall, Rick’s profile does a good job combining the character and the network he represents. In an effort to create the same balance in the tweets, *FRP* attempts to bring in the network side of Rick. In the tweets, the network appears more to be a disruption – a “commercial break” in the personal stream of Rick Sanchez.

Using the conversational tone he uses when answering users who contact him on Twitter, it would be easy for Rick to encourage conversations around a topic using hashtags. I predict they would be highly popular and would allow a larger crowd to find and participate in these conversations. Rick might thus reach people who did not even realize he existed.

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