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Twitter Guidelines for Local Government

Below is a near-final draft of Roanoke County, Virginia’s Twitter Guidelines. This is structured as a working guideline document to help guide our local county departments on how to implement Twitter, appropriate usage, while lending some oversight authority to our Web 2.0 Working Group (cross-departmental collection of Web 2.0 geeks). Our county could probably field 6-8 definitive Twitter streams at the moment (we already have three), so we thought it best to try to add some structure for departments wishing to enter the arena.

Any comments or suggestions? What did we miss?

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Twitter Guidelines for Roanoke County Departments

What is Twitter?
Twitter is a free micro-blogging internet service that allows users to send and read other users’ updates (otherwise known as tweets). The updates are text of up to 140 characters in length. Updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and delivered to other users who have signed up to receive these updates.

Why Use Twitter?
Twitter offers brief and concise messaging that is also compatible for mobile devices (i.e. cell phone text messaging) that can be used to drive citizens to the County’s primary website for more information (www.RoanokeCountyVA.gov).

Roanoke County’s goal is to use Twitter as an additional media channel to communicate directly with citizens who choose to “follow” our Twitter updates. Twitter also allows Roanoke County to carry its various messages further into the community via mobile messaging.

Authorization to Use Twitter
Roanoke County’s administrative policy regarding Social Media delegates the review and approval of Social Media usage to the Web 2.0 Working Group and the Director of Public Information, which may then authorize individuals to represent the County of Roanoke or Roanoke County departments on Twitter to support the mission and overall goals of the County.

Notice Regarding Comments and Usage
Roanoke County’s administrative policy regarding Social Media specifically points out that “The Board of Supervisors and the County Administrator have an overriding interest and expectation in deciding who may ‘speak’ and what is ‘spoken’ on behalf of Roanoke County through social media sites.
• Roanoke County employees using Twitter should not create a public forum for displaying comments.
• All official Roanoke County presences on social media sites or services are considered an extension of the County’s information networks and are governed by the Electronic Media Usage Policy contained in the Roanoke County Employee Handbook.
• Employees representing the County government via Social Media outlets must conduct themselves at all times as representatives of Roanoke County.
• The Public Information Office will monitor content on each of the Department social media sites to ensure adherence to the Social Media Policy for appropriate use, message and branding consistent with the goals of Roanoke County.

Potential Uses for Twitter
Uses for Twitter include (but are not limited to):
1. Sharing published news releases from Public Information, Police, and Fire and Rescue;
2. Publicizing Parks and Recreation and Library programs sponsored by Roanoke County;
3. Publicizing new services, holiday closings or other information normally only found on Roanoke County’s primary website.
4. Issuing emergency alerts, road closures, or weather alerts affecting large numbers of County citizens.

Backup Policy
In the interest of maintaining compliance with possible FOIA requests and adequate records retention, Twitter will be backed up once a week by using www.tweetake.com.
1. Each department is responsible for backing up its own Twitter account.
2. The weekly backup file should be stored on a department network drive.

Guidelines for Following Others
1. Roanoke County departments using Twitter should strive to follow other Roanoke County departments using Twitter to help create more presence on the Twitter media space.
2. To help prevent loss of viewers and dilution of message, Roanoke County should not FOLLOW any individual or group, unless that group is a national or regional professional organization that supports the primary goal of the department or the goals of Roanoke County (for example, American Library Association, National Recreation and Parks Association, or similar organizations).
3. In order to limit the display of public comments, Twitter spam, or unrelated content, Roanoke County Twitter accounts should not follow other Twitter users besides the exceptions listed above.

Number of Twitters per Department
Each department should hold no more than one (1) Twitter account, unless additional Twitter accounts are approved by the Web 2.0 Working Group.

Naming Conventions
Roanoke County departments should strive to use account names that maintain the County’s branding and consistent identification with Roanoke County. If available, suitable examples may include the initials RC or the abbreviation ROCO as a prefix to the department or service of Roanoke County, e.g. RocoPubLib is Roanoke County Public Library.

Legal Considerations
FOIA – The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), located at § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.

“A public record is any writing or recording – regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format – that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.”

• In consideration of Virginia FOIA laws, see Backup Policy above.

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Adriel Hampton

I’d just point out that you are going to severly limit your audience by not following back. Twitter is generally built on reciprocal relationships, and they are generally expected. If your intent is to communicate with a broader audience than normally visits County sites, I would seriously suggest reconsidering that portion. Otherwise, a very nice policy that I will also be sharing with our advice lawyers. Thanks for sharing!

Stuart Harrison

I echo the comments re: following back. Actively following (i.e. searching and following based keywords in the public timeline) isn’t something I think government departments should be doing, but following back is just common courtesy. In Twitterville, people with a high follower to followee ratio tends to look arrogant to Twitter users, it also suggests that you’re there to broadcast a message, rather than actually converse. Some good food for thought otherwise, thanks!

Vanessa Casavant

I agree with Adriel and Stuart on the topic of following. It is definitely common courtesy to follow back, and it is also in the best interest of the county. I would probably preface it to say that departments should use their best judgment in determining who their audience is when following. For the graduate school where I work, I keep the word audience pretty broadly defined and only follow real people. Not only does it help me monitor what’s being said about the school I work for, but it’s making the school an active participant in the Twitter community by retweeting posts of relevance – particularly those of other departments in the university, alumni, etc.

As for major props to you guys, the FOIA request topic was one that is really forward thinking. I’ve instituted the back up for my school, and shared it with our central marketing and communications folks here at the university. Thanks for sharing!

Gray Craig

This is all good stuff and thanks for taking the time to comment!

Just want to follow up on someting Stuart said: “it also suggests that you’re there to broadcast a message, rather than actually converse…” That’s certainly true. Without pointing fingers, that’s pretty much the environment here – for now. If the mood changes, we’ll have several departments ready to embrace the reciprocal relationship Adriel mentioned.

One day our admin and elected peeps will see more value in the possibilities of two way communication. I figure as soon as two or more of our Supervisors wins an election using Twitter, Facebook, or some other Web 2.0 widget/service/community, the lights will come on in the barn and this animal will be properly born. News about the @SF311 site sparked a lot of excitement in the office today. A few more prominent stories like that would go a long way to helping us open the dialogue about the true value of Twitter to our County.

Right now it boils down to a trust issue (inside and out).

Michael Messina

This is an excellent first-round policy for local government use of twitter. I’ll definitely be using it as a template to start from – thanks!

Rick Johnston, CAE

I don’t believe that one always has to reciprocate a follow on Twitter. While local governments may indeed find some benefit in getting a pulse for topics of interest within their communities, I don’t think this is mandatory. I can see plenty of people wanting to follow a municipal Twitter feed for all sorts of relevant announcements (weather alerts, major traffic tie-ups, public hearings, etc.). I would not expect them to find much value in my tweets.