15 Commandments for Gov’t Agencies on Twitter

There is a promised land for government organizations one where citizens pay attention to public agencies’ information and pass it along to others, spreading the word for all to hear. Although there are many paths to the promised land, your journey will likely pass through Twitter.

But the roads can be treacherous. You can easily get lost along the way and end up in the “land of nobody listens”, or worse, the land of “nobody cares.” While the rules are not etched in stone, the guide below will help you learn how to use Twitter effectively and lead you safely to the promised land of transparency, participation and engagement. 

This guide was made possible by the good folks at Forum One. Special thanks to them for sponsoring the guide, as well as all those who participated in making this excellent resource a reality.

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1. Thou Shalt Listen Before You Leap

We cannot emphasize enough the fact that any government organization should learn to monitor social media before they even attempt to create a Twitter (or any other type of) account.

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2. Thou Shalt Use Thy Profile Info Properly

Your profile should entice people to want to follow and engage with you. That means putting up a picture (a logo or other identifier) and filling in your profile information.

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3. Thou Shalt Have a Disclaimer

Do you only plan to tweet from Monday to Friday, 9:00 to 5:00 or only check for mentions once a day at 3:00 pm? Fine, but you need to spell this out. You need a good disclaimer!

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4. Thou Shalt Not Bully

As a government agency, you certainly want to give some authority to your account and discourage spoofers who may want to intentionally mislead the public. And certainly you will want to report to Twitter any accounts that appear to be intentionally spoofing your account and/or tweeting misleading information.

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5. Thou Shalt Tweet Regularly

When deciding to follow your organization’s account or not, one of the first thing twittizens will do is look at your last tweet. If it is 2 months old, forget about it!

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6. Thou Shalt Integrate Thy Tweet Approval Process

No one wants to go back ten times to get what is essentially the same content approved over and over again. The trick is to build in an approval process into your organization’s regular content approval process.

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7. Thou Shalt Not Register Alternate Accounts

It is standard procedure for government organizations to register alternate site names to prevent squatters or spoofers. Unfortunately, this is forbidden under Twitter Rules and Twitter is pretty specific about it.

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8. Thou Shalt Not Automate Thy Tweets

I know it can be tempting! Automation reduces the workload, but there are two major drawbacks:
1 – It is not social
2 – It can get you in trouble!

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9. Thou Shalt Tweet in First Person

OK. This may sound like strange advice for an organization that frequently issues highly impersonal press releases: “Minister Soandso to visit site of the new WidgetrUs factory.” But experience has shown time and again that an individual on Twitter will beat out an anonymous organization hands down on followers, retweets, etc. So find a way to add humanity to your streams if you can.

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10. Thou Shalt Not Bait and Switch

It can be tempting to spice-up our tweets to get more clicks, RTs, etc. This is especially true in the public sector where content can sometimes be…shall we say…dry. DON’T!

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11. Thou Shalt Not Spam

Government organizations don’t spam, do they? Maybe not intentionally, but Twitter has a long list of behaviors that it qualifies as spam that you might not have thought of.

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12. Thou Shalt Be Selective of Who You Follow

Following an individual or an organization on Twitter could be considered an endorsement of that individual or organization. So you will need to be selective and strategic about it.

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13. Thou Shalt Monitor Thy Account

Creating a Twitter account is one thing but keeping it alive is another. If you create a Twitter account for your organization, you had better do some thinking beforehand.

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14. Thou Shalt Contribute To the Conversation

Yes, you can use Twitter purely as a push medium and, indeed, some of the bigshots do. But you can move your agenda forward by retweeting those accounts that have the same goals as your organization.

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15. Thou Shalt Measure for Success

As a government organization, you always have a duty to spend taxpayer money responsibly. In order to do this, you have to show that the resources you expended for “this Twitter thing” were justified.

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This guide evolved from a post by Alain Lemay on GovLoop titled “Who Not to Follow On Twitter: A Guide for Public Sector Employees.” Alain is a Senior Web Communications Analyst for the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Agency in Canada. He graciously donated his time to assist in producing this guide in tandem with the GovLoop team.

Also sponsoring this guide is Forum One Communications, a digital communications firm committed to providing advanced technology solutions to public-policy sectors, with expertise in:

  • Digital Communications. Over 1,500 strategy and web development projects for more than 500 organizations.
  • Drupal. With more than 70 large-scale Drupal builds, they are widely recognized as a leader in the Drupal community.
  • User Experience and Design. Audience-centric analysis, content strategy, information architecture, design and usability testing.
  • Open Source for Government. Successful projects for EPA, CDC, FDA, USAID, U.S. Army, and the departments of Energy, Commerce, Treasury, and Health and Human Services.

You can learn more about Forum One’s services by visiting www.forumone.com/government.