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Talking Twitter with ITV’s ‘Peston’

Asset 1 6 min Q&A

Each month, Talking Twitter takes you behind the scenes of some of Twitter’s most interesting publishers with the social media professionals responsible for some of the platform’s standout Tweets and viral moments. This month we sat down with Cass Horowitz, the man who brought UK political show, ITV’s Peston, live to Twitter before its TV broadcast each week.

Tell us a little about yourself. What makes @itvpeston worth following?

ITV’s “Peston” is, I think, one of the few political program handles that has taken Twitter on in a meaningful way and regularly encourages engagement, and uses that engagement in an influential way. So not only were we the very first program to stream an entire program, two hours before it goes on TV — without ads on Twitter — but we regularly allow our Twitter followers to ask questions to our guests. Everyone from the prime minister to Jeremy Corbyn has been asked a question via Twitter.

 

Any particularly viral moments we might remember your work from?

Yeah, we had a good one which was this Nigel Farage poll. During the live stream of the show, where there would typically be ad breaks, we have special content that only people on Twitter can watch. In this case, it was Nigel Farage being filmed by “Peston” co-presenter Anushka Asthana doing a video poll. Unsurprisingly, he chose the subject of Brexit, which absolutely everyone jumped on, including James Corden and Jo Brand, and we had tens of thousands of votes and hundreds and hundreds of Retweets.

 

How has social media changed since you started out in the industry?

I started out in pure journalism, and was a runner on “The Andrew Marr Show” back in the early days, and was the first person to set up the show on Twitter. That was when I started getting interested in the politics side of things, and how you could engage people via social media in politics. I launched my agency, the Clerkenwell Brothers, two years ago, which is when I started to focus on social media as a key part of my role, so I guess that’s when I became a pure social media person.

I think brands now have to be much smarter on social media in terms of using it in a more authentic way. Be fast, be first, be funny — these are the key things to start with. The best brands really have to invest in smart people who can do that, react to stuff, so that either you’re the first person doing something or the fastest, or the funniest. For us on “Peston,” we like to be the ones breaking new ground, because it’s really busy in the space of brands just Tweeting about their product every day, so you’ve got to be faster and quicker than ever before.

 

Describe your relationship with Twitter.

My first really real experience with Twitter was that I used to run a blog where I wrote film reviews. I watched a film that I absolutely loved called “The Imposter,” which was a documentary about a guy who pretends to be someone he’s not. I found him on Twitter and managed to organize an interview for my blog, and, at the time, that blew my mind that I could now connect with people. Before Twitter there would have been no chance, no way, really, for me to make those connections or have that opportunity. So I’ve always liked Twitter for the access that it gives me to interesting people, as well as the content. I really do use it, not just as a sort of social channel, but as a network.

What's the most underrated Twitter feature?

We’ve just started using the LiveCut editor — rest in peace, SnappyTV — and it has been really well built for people who need to be very fast with content, which I need to be on a political program. It’s got all the shortcuts, you can cut up and publish live video, which has loads of different applications, and you can download it as well, which is useful.

 

And if we could grant wishes, what’s the one feature you’d ask for (with the exception of the edit button)?

It would be to bring back the old format of live events. I feel like it goes against the way that people behave and interact with a [live] stream, which is if they watch it fullscreen they can’t Tweet about it, and if they have it small, then it’s getting moved around, whereas with events previously, you could have it all side by side, and be Tweeting about it really easily. I miss that.

 

Twitter is all about the conversation. How do you decide which conversations to engage with?

I think on “Peston” we have a little bit of a lighthearted approach toward politics, but what we’re really, really strong on is that we respect politicians and what they do. We’re not there to judge them or ridicule them, so we like to engage with the people who reflect that, and take a slightly more lighthearted view of what’s going on, without undermining the importance of it all. So, if you look at the sort of stuff we reply to, it can be tongue in cheek at times, but it never takes a mocking tone.

How do you prioritize the different functions of your Twitter account’s role?

The most important thing is the buildup to the program on Wednesday — announcing guests, letting people know the show is on — and then [filling] two ad breaks. With the live stream [of the show] we now have these two ad breaks which require content that’s solely produced for Twitter. Just looking at last week, we decided to have a party to mark the end of Brexit, in the ad break, so we’re having to go out and get party hats and sausage rolls, and setting up an area on set, getting people to be at the party, so that kind of content takes a fair amount of time.

 

What accounts are a must-follow for you right now?

I really like the @OneMinuteBriefs account. It sets the creative industry a brief that they have to answer in one minute, which I find a fun idea and really interesting. Ryan Wallman is fun, I believe his handle is @Dr_Draper. He had the idea of calling out ads and things that work and don’t work. Politically, obviously Robert — @Peston — is a pro, and I’ve always enjoyed his personal takes.

 

OK, quick-fire round of questions to close out the Q&A.

 

Throwing friendly shade at other account: yea or nay?

Nay — I’m more focused on what we do.

Including more than one hashtag: yea or nay?

Only if it’s part of a joke about having more than one hashtag.

Using emoji to replace words: yea or nay?

Always. Definitely a yes on that one.
 

 

Editor's note: This interview took place in January 2019. Cass has since moved from ITV's 'Peston' to join the UK Treasury department.