Guide to using Twitter

 

Tweet itGadi Ben-Yehuda, Social Media Director for the Center for the Business of Government, shares his insights into how government can better leverage Twitter.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is a ‘micro-blogging’ platform. Twitter accounts are free and posts consist of 140 characters that may (but don’t have to) contain links, address other Twitter users and be part of ongoing conversations that are tracked with the pound sign (#).

Why join Twitter?

There are distinct reasons to follow certain people and conversations on Twitter and then to begin or join conversations. Reasons to follow people and conversations include:

  1. Let human beings (rather than an algorithm) find news relevant to your interests;
  2. See what people are talking about and how they are discussing it;
  3. Find people who are likely to be interested in your publication; and/or
  4. Jumpstart a relationship that you plan to initiate in real life.

Reasons to begin your own conversations or join those already in progress include:

  1. Help constituents find your own blog posts or multimedia assets;
  2. Deliver meaningful, but brief updates to your audience;
  3. Help determine the course of a conversation through language and links; and/or
  4. Keep yourself invested in the conversation among its most active participants

How to tweet?

Once you establish your Twitter account, you may begin tweeting. On the top of the Twitter home screen, there is a text box into which you enter messages.

Technical Aspects of Tweeting

Length

A tweet may be no more than 140 characters. It’s a good idea to limit yourself to 140 characters minus four more than your username so that others may retweet your messages without losing words I.e. if your handle is ‘Jsmith’ (six characters) limit yourself to 130 characters — 140-6-4.

Hashtags

A hashtag is a ‘#’ placed in front of a word or string of letters. Hashtags are developed spontaneously by users and allow people to search for them and follow ongoing conversations. Examples of hashtags include #energy, #gov20, and #recovery. Take care, however, not to use ambiguous hashtags; visit www.hashtags.org and read the tweets in which your hashtag appears to get a good sense for its relevance/appropriateness.

Usernames

Placing a username in a post is akin to using a hashtag. You mark a name by place an “@” before someone’s Twitter handle. Doing this links a user’s name to their profile, so that readers can click on it and go to that user’s twitter feed. It also makes your tweet appear within that user’s twitter feed and on people’s twitter feeds if they have a search running for that person’s name.

It’s generally considered good manners to alert a fellow Twitterer when you mention them.

Example

Just read @GBYehuda’s Twitter guide. Great #gov20 resource.

Content Aspects

Twitter is an excellent digital channel for the following activities:

  • Publicizing your blog content: tweeting about your blog post, using hashtags, including a shortened link (bit.ly or is.gd, as example). Shortening links is automatic in applications like Tweetdeck, or you can go to bit.ly or is.gd and enter a URL to be shortened.
  • Augmenting your blog content: tweets can be added to your blog to keep your content up-to-the-minute fresh. They can also keep your readers engaged in your conversation by more regular updates than you have time to add to the blog per se.
  • Calling out followers: tweets that include usernames can be used to pull people into your conversation, thus creating a relationship and a dialogue that may be more interesting and fruitful than a monologue.
  • Linking to/commenting on relevant content: tweeting about others’ posts, articles, and other assets as they are published online makes you a resource for your followers and a good colleague to the authors whose work you distribute.

How to build a following

Once youve joined Twitter and started writing posts, you should start to build a following. It takes time to build a significant following and many people will find you through retweets, your blog (or other publications), or other organic means beyond your control. There are some actions you can take, however, to accelerate the growth of your readership.

  • Follow people who are likely to want to follow you. This is an extension of the adage ‘If you want a friend, be one.’ Look for the people who are engaged in the conversation in which you are participating and follow them. Look through their follower lists and follow all the people there who are also participating in that conversation. Be generous with your follower lists, erring on the side of inclusion. People are more likely to investigate following someone who is following them than they are to follow someone based only on hashtags and retweets.
  • Reference people who are likely to want to follow you. Be generous with your use of ‘@’ signs to reference other twitterers. Retweet others’ posts if they are relevant and if you think your network should know about them. If you are commenting on a blog post, ascertain if the author is on Twitter, and if so, reference her in your tweet. If you have written a blog post about someone, include their Twitter handle in your tweet about the post.
  • Use appropriate hashtags. People follow conversations as well as people. By marking your posts with appropriate hashtags, you will both attract more followers and be read by people who are not necessarily following all your tweets.
  • Tweet meaningfully and often. People are more likely to follow writers who provide high-value content and do so frequently.
  • Include your Twitter handle in all digital communications. People are more likely to follow you if they know you’re on Twitter. Include your Twitter handle in your emails, post it on your blog, write it on your business card, and put it in the signature of essays that you publish online. Anywhere that you might include your email address, you should also include your Twitter handle.

Use TweetDeck

If you are successful at building an audience, and if you want to follow specific conversations, you should use Twitter as a platform and TweetDeck as your interface. Set up columns that track conversations by hashtag (for example, I follow ‘#gov20′ all the time and when a conference is in session, will follow that specific hashtag, e.g. ‘#g2e,’ ‘#pdf10,’ and ‘#irmco’) and columns that track your highest-value followers by topic (for example, I have a column for technologists, another for social media/communications, and another for government employees).

Apart of splitting your Twitter feed into higher signal-to-noise streams, TweetDeck can also present other social media streams, like FaceBook and LinkedIn, but that’s really more gravy.

Gadi Ben-Yehuda is the Social Media Director for the Center for the Business of Government. Mr. Ben-Yehuda has worked on the Web since 1994, when he received an email from Maya Angelou through his first Web site. He has an MFA in poetry from American University, has taught writing at Howard University, and has worked in Washington, DC, for nonprofits, lobbying organizations, Fleishman-Hillard Global Communications, and Al Gore's presidential campaign. Prior to his current position, Gadi was was a Web Strategist for the District of Columbia's Office of the chief Technology Officer (OCTO). Additionally, Gadi has taught creative, expository, and Web writing for more than 10 years to university students, private-sector professionals, and soldiers, including Marines at the Barracks at 8th and I in Washington, DC. (The lattermost by far the most disciplined.) You can follow Gadi on Twitter, read his columns on Huffington Post, and see his posts on GovLoop and read his blog entries on the IBM Center for the Business of Government site.