Author, journalist, and former Twitter employee Mark S. Luckie reverse-engineered Twitter's trends to create a list of the best conversations in #BlackTwitter, a community that discusses issues that are important to black Americans but are often overlooked in mainstream media. It's from this list of more than 150 accounts that Luckie finds content for a new daily, public digest, Today in #BlackTwitter.
The project is a refreshingly modern take on using social media for underreported news topics. The digest (and its Twitter account, @todayinblk) is a case study in how news can be both informative and relatable. You can create your own Twitter list for news, too, just by following the steps Luckie shared with me, below.
"Guns rights in America," "Wine train women sue for millions," "@TeenVogue's faux pas"
It's impossible to describe in brevity the intersectionality of Black Twitter — it crosses race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality — and Luckie flat-out refuses to water that down. He's less interested in labeling individuals (a.k.a. who is or isn't part of the #BlackTwitter discussion) and is instead focused on finding valuable conversations.
It's impossible, too, to overstate the importance that #BlackTwitter provides to the news cycle. Those who discuss the news of the day are just as willing to talk about, say, celebrities who protest slut-shaming as they are shooting deaths in the US. And these discussions often bubble up beyond those involved in it. The conversation evolves offline in historically changing ways: As Dara Lind and Dylan Matthews wrote in August, Black Lives Matter (a movement that organized national protests using Twitter) is the "biggest grassroots force in the 2016 Democratic primary."
Many of the conversations highlighted in the digest are the kind you might talk about with family or friends without knowing where the story goes next, or whether the media will even care to follow up. Did you know, for example, that the women's book club members who were kicked off a wine tour train for being "too loud" are now suing for damages? Or that Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson was a recent guest lecturer at Yale University?
You can have a list of diverse sources on any topic and for any community, and what you'll find is a universe of new ideas and information. Here's how Mark created his list to find the stories for the Today in #BlackTwitter digest.
How to make an amazing list for news you want to follow
There are probably 10,000 published instructions for making lists based on topics. You don't have to read any of them, but just know this:
1) Know a few hashtags and keywords. Know, broadly, the area you want to look into. The good news is that you probably already have a ton of ideas in mind. Luckie used several hashtags and keywords to find #BlackTwitter sources, but you can make a list just by starting with one or two keywords and expanding from there as you refine the list.
2) Use TweetDeck columns to sort top-shared content. By looking at tweets within a broad hashtag or keyword, and sorting by how many times it was retweeted by others, you can find users who said something important for the discussion at hand, no matter how many followers they have or whether they're verified.
3) Check to see how many tweets a users has. This is a great way to figure out who might have joined the conversation a little too late. Luckie focuses on finding users who have at least 10,000 to 20,000 tweets under their belt. By analyzing tweet total counts, you can save yourself a bit of grief from untrusted tweeters.
4) To find new sources, see who users mutually follow. Let's say you've found two brilliant Twitter users. See who they mutually follow with tools like Unfollowers.com and FollowerWonk.com, which can uncover new sources of mutual interest. Both services are paid, but you can't go wrong with manually reviewing who people follow, too. This same idea also applies to outlets and brands: Many times a subject will be expertly covered by a source you may have never come across before.
5) Check your list against trending topics across the web. This is a good way to see what is not being covered by your list. Check on what's being shared at Buzzsumo.com; type in a keyword or the URL of a news site to see top-shared links from the past week or 24 hours. You could use Twitter Moments or Facebook's trending feed, for example, to see if Twitter is picking up new #BlackLivesMatter stories.
Other products like Lissted and Nuzzel collect Twitter content based on lists; I also recommend using these if you're looking to expand sources. You'd be surprised to see all the stories and videos other people share across your social networks. As for Luckie, he says he's already received a surprising amount of positive feedback since launching Today in #BlackTwitter, which will have its home on Medium.