Guide to using Twitter

By / Jun 10, 2010

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:

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.

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.

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