Tweet This: 4 Things Twitter Doesn't Tell You About Tweeting for Government

  

 

When it became a publicly traded company late last year, Twitter — the attention-deficit-disorder-driven communications tool first reserved for teens and twenty-somethings — officially became mainstream. Nowadays, even tea tweets (see twitter.com/TeasofTexas for what it’s saying), so it makes sense that politicians and government departments are chirping.

The social media giant recently updated its best practices guide for government website page. The guide now highlights valuable information about their Twitter Alerts program for government entities, which helps institutions more effectively push crisis, disaster and emergency communications out to constituents, both on the social network and via text messages. There’s also information on how and what governments should tweet; research on how photos, videos and hashtags can effectively be incorporated into tweets; instructions on how to integrate Twitter with government websites; and reports on the ways the social media platform can facilitate policy change.

But the guide left a just few things out.

1. Listening is key.

Whether by design or not, browsing Twitter can be like drinking from a fire hose. Almost 6,000 tweets are sent every second on Twitter—more than 518 million each day. Like the conversations at a party, the tweets range from small talk to big ideas. There’s everything from mundane musings on breakfast cereal to important policy discussions and debates. 

To insert yourself into the right conversations, you first have to listen in. As the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” In the same way that listening in on a group’s conversation before chiming in is important in real life (In Real Life = IRL in Twitter-speak), listening in on Twitter gives you the context needed to join in appropriately once you’re ready to start tweeting.  

The trick to listening in the Twitter-verse is to organize incoming tweets in an easy-to-digest way that maximizes the signal-to-noise ratio. Without some organization, a Twitter feed is like being in a loud room where everyone is talking at once — only, you know, silently, with text.

2. Lists can clear the clutter.

One of the best ways to make sense out of the flood of incoming tweets is to filter them into streams organized by topic or other logical groupings. There are no restrictions on how these lists are organized or which users are placed in them. 

You can create lists right on Twitter’s website or through third-party applications like HootSuite (more on this later). There are also publicly available lists on Twitter created by other users that can be subscribed to. 

For instance, TAC maintains two public lists that anyone can subscribe to. Our Who To Follow list pulls together the feeds of newsmakers, reporters, agencies and legislators from across Texas to give subscribers up-to-the-moment access to all the happenings of legislative sessions and the interim hustle. Our Texas Counties on Twitter list offers a window into the tweets of counties, county departments and current and former county officials around the state. 

To subscribe to either list, navigate to www.twitter.com/TexasCounties/lists. Choose the list you’d like to follow and hit the “subscribe” button in the upper left of the page. 

3. Third-party applications help you stay organized.

Twitter’s site and apps for both Apple and Android leave a lot to be desired. Thankfully, there are many social media management tools out there that organize social media updates better than Twitter can. 

Many of the third-party applications also offer analytic information about the success of your tweets. They can also manage other social media accounts, like Facebook, putting all of those communications and relevant information about them in one easy-to-manage place. 

Because the applications have so many functions, many of them charge a monthly fee. One exception is Hootsuite, which offers a free basic service that includes everything county officials and departments need to get started in organizing their social media accounts.

4. Hashtags as a list.

You’ve probably heard about hashtags. Simply put, they are a way to search tweets on a common topic. Users include them in their tweets to become part of a larger conversation. For example, a search for #txlege (not case-sensitive), would return a list of tweets by people talking about the Texas Legislature. 

The hashtag acts as an ad-hoc list of people currently talking about a topic. Twitter does not currently allow users to create a list based on a hashtag, but most third-party applications will let users set a hashtag just like a list. Setting up hashtag streams on third-party applications allows you to follow conversations important to you, your department and your county.  


Using hashtags in your own tweets will also help you reach a wider audience than just your own followers. And because other users are viewing that hashtag stream, you’re reaching people who are actually interested in that particular topic.

The b​​ottom line.

Twitter allows for flexible, real-time communications, but it is still just one vehicle in a suite of tools — including meetings, public talks, email and Facebook — that help officials communicate to the public, answer questions and listen to constituent feedback.

Whether a county is just now ready to begin using social media or is looking to expand its online presence and ramp up existing social media efforts, TAC has assembled several resource pages at www.county.org/socialmedia to provide county officials with the information and resources they need. Officials with questions about applying social media to their specific needs can contact TAC communications staff at (800) 456-5974.

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