Yesterday, I lead a Webinar for GSA’s Web Manager’s University in which I covered the basics of Twitter of Facebook.
Alice Lipowicz of Federal Computer Week was in attendance and wrote a synopsis of the session, which itself sparked a conversation between myself, Ari Herzog, Alex Howard, and a few others on Twitter.
There were two main issues that Ari and Alex raised, and I’d like to explore them further in the format of a blog post rather than on Twitter. And before I even bring up the issues, I should say that the conversation on Twitter helped me to refine my thinking on the subjects we covered, and will certainly have an impact on how I discuss those topics in the future.
In that light, I’m thankful to Alex, Ari, and the other participants, and I’m very interested in reading further responses either here on GovLoop or in other venues.
Here are the issues that were raised on Twitter:
- Hashtags: I said they should be used “pretty much always in every tweet.” Ari (and others, including @mchronister and @ribock) disagreed.
- Broadcasting: I said that applications like TweetDeck and HootSuite “allow for advance arrangement of multiple tweets throughout the day, and of tweets that are simultaneously broadcasted to Facebook and other platforms.” Alex strongly disagrees that agencies should think in terms of “broadcasting” to “audiences” when they turn to social media.
Let’s take these one at a time.
My discussion of hashtags centered around what I consider to be the two most important benefits of using them: first, they help the author of the tweet keep the message focused and its readers in mind. Using a hashtag (or two) helps authors answer the important questions: what is the essence of what I’m saying, and who are the people who would find this most interesting? Second, hashtags help people who are not following the tweet stream to find the tweet based on its content, not on the author. I gave the example of #gov20, #tech, #data, #health, and #justice as examples of hashtags that government tweet streams might use.
Informing my strident assertion of “pretty much always in every tweet,” was a poll that was conducted during the Webinar that asked participants how often they used hashtags. Of the 260 respondents, 42% said “0% of the time;” 29% said “1-25%;” 8% said “26-50%;” 4% said “51-75%;” and 16% said “76-100%” That is, nearly half never used hashtags, and nearly a quarter used them between 0 and 25% of the time. Exhorting them to include hashtags with every tweet was perhaps an over-endorsement, but I think it was warranted given the audience. The larger point, however, was tagging tweets with metadata, as I said, both for the sake of the author and the reader.
As an example of good tweeting, let’s take a look at Alex’s feed. On October 30, he posted 50 tweets, of which 14 (28%) had hashtags. That said, only a single tweet of Alex’s had neither a hashtag nor a mention (e.g. I thought that was the right interpretation.) . I do believe that at another point in the Webinar, I said that a mention essentially “counts” as a hashtag (again, since both are “metadata”). So, looking at both hashtags and mentions, 98% of Alex’s tweets were tagged with metadata. Of Ari’s 18 tweets on October 30, every one had either a hashtag or a mention.
Looking back, if I could amend my suggestion (and I will do so in future presentations) I would say that “pretty much every tweet should have metadata–either a hashtag or a mention.”
This was the more contentious issue. I spoke, more than once, about “broadcasting” tweets or Facebook status updates. Alex’s objections to the use of the terms “broadcasting” and “audiences” are captured in two of his tweets (and this longer item):
“broadcasting” is one way communication, one->many. Radio & TV exemplify the form. Social media is by definition beyond broadcast. permalink
If you advise an entity to “engage” the “audience” by broadcasting TO them, are they going to listen? permalink
I responded that one can certainly broadcast through twitter, especially if tweets include a hashtag. For example, when the USGS tweets“No warning advisory after 6.9 earthquake off coast of : ” or when they tweet “Links to photo collections may be found here: Check it out, students & teachers!” they are talking to their 160K+ followers, of course, but also to people interested in earthquakes, tsunamis, and Peru. Is that not example of one-to-many communication? And is that not a good use of the USGS twitter feed?
I would argue that is both broadcasting and a good use of the feed. Further, I would argue that they have identified an “audience,” in people who are interested in tsunamis, earthquakes, and Peru. In reference to Alex’s tweets, I would say that social media does allow for broadcasting, and that broadcasting can be either the beginning of engagement (to which many people would listen) or a good in itself (don’t worry about that #tsunami!).
As a benefit of using Twitter, either of these posts can also spark true engagement: other followers can tweet back to USGS with their own photos of the earthquake, adding to the discussion, or they share the link from the first tweet about Peru. But just because twitter enables efficient two-way (or really multi-directional) communication, it does not follow that agencies or people should not turn to Twitter as an effective medium for disseminating information quickly to interested people (i.e. an “audience”).
In the future, I’ll certainly be more conscientious to point out that broadcasting is only the smallest part of what we can and should do on social media, and that it will ideally act as the beginning of an engagement.
Those are my expanded, though still evolving, thoughts on this subject. Feel free to respond (or tweet!) your own.