Want to fly high? Yes, Twitter is an outstanding way (one of the best, in fact) to reach citizens and engage. However, as a government organization just because you launch a Twitter profile doesn't mean people will automatically come running to find out what you are saying. Instead, you need to build your following over time, by consistently engaging citizens and providing value.
**Note - this is draft 1. Leave your comments below and let's create the best article on creating a government Twitter profile**
Here are some tips you can learn from government agencies using Twitter to the best of its ability, and in turn, lead the flock.
1. Get started. First, you need to set up a profile. Go to Twitter.com and hit sign up.
For username, this is your official address so choose wisely. For example it could be twitter.com/usepa.
Make sure the email and password for the account are known by others on your team.
This can be the logo for your agency or a team member who represents your communication (although many organizations use their logo).
Also make sure to fill out your website address to cross-promote and fill out your bio.
2. Pick a Tool. There are many ways to interact with Twitter.
When at a desktop, some send out tweets through Twitter.com, while other use products like HootSuite or TweetDeck. Additionally there are Twitter apps for iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Windows 7, and even iPad.
Personally I use Twitter.com on the left like this:
3. Learn the lay of the land. When you first log-in to Twitter, it can look a bit daunting. Who to follow? What to say? Here are some good Getting Started tips:
First – how to interact with others.
- To post a regular message to all of your subscribers (aka. followers), just type it into the website/application and hit ‘post’/'send.’
- To send a message to someone publically, type “@” followed by their username, then the message. So, if I wanted to say hi to me (I’m lonely), I’d type “@davefleet hi there!” These are known as “replies.”
- To send a private message to someone (aka. a direct message), type “d” then a space and then their username. So, to send me a direct message you would type “d davefleet That’s a really long blog post on Twitter!” Note: you can only send direct messages to people who you follow, and who follow you. That means you won’t get them out-of-the-blue.
Note: Tweetdeck and Twhirl both have this functionality built-in to them. If you mouse-over someone’s profile picture (next to each tweet) in these applications, you’ll see either two or four icons:
- Re-tweet (re-post the message that person posted)
- Reply to that person (publicly)
- Add this message to your favourites
- Direct-message that person
Now, to take your game to the next level, here are some best practices:
4. Be real. Make it clear you have a living and breathing person behind Tweetdeck. Sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many Twitter profiles out there sound as human as the talking lady on my GPS. How to do this? Something like this will do the trick. It doesn't take much, but something witty and personal will let followers know you really care.
5. Follow others back. If you have 8000 Twitter followers, and you follow 0 back, what you communicate is a bit more like a TV commercial than a telephone call - - unidirectional. Instead, listen to what others are saying and follow those engaging with you back.
6. Be timely. Once you grow a following of citizens and they are reaching out to you, it is best to respond to them on a relatively timely basis. Of course, it largely depends on the mission of your organization, as to how frequently you will be conversing and engaging, but try to stay active at least every couple of days. San Francisco 311 is San Francisco's Customer Service Center, so it makes sense for them to be responding all day long to those reaching out. Think about what makes most sense for your organization and try to stick to that schedule.
7. Don't just tweet links. When folks first dive into Twitter, the tendency is to want to simply Tweet links or re-tweet links from others. This is fine if you are just getting your Twitter (sea) legs, however, once you get the hang of conversing with others, aim to use it more as an interaction tool. Do that by talking with real people. See below - - these followers are reaching out to @SF311 and they respond directly back to them.
[email protected] responds back directly...
8. Show enthusiasm and show you care.
The best Twitter accounts show enthusiasm and show they genuinely care. For example, check out Cory Booker's Twitter profile (including the picture). Pretty enthusiastic; I agree. And check out this tweet he just sent to one of his 1 million+ followers:
P.S. Here's two more tips on how to track and be safe:
9. Measure and Metrics
10. Back-Up - For many federal agencies and state/local government, they need to archive Twitter posts and comments for record retention laws. Some people use companies like Backupify.com or GovVault to achieve this. One good free tool is Twapper Keeper
Final Thoughts - Regardless of your organization's mission, consider what inspires you about it, and let it shine through.
Some ways you can do this:
1. Celebrate the great happenings in your organization, and share how proud you are via your tweets.
2. Like mentioned in point #4, be real, speak with a human voice, and encourage your followers when they interact with you.
3. Tweet out inspiring quotes when appropriate.
These are just a few examples.
Please share your thoughts on what you've found that works. We'll incorporate the feedback in the comments.