Three months ago I began tweeting both in a personal capacity (@nrturner) and also using an official Twitter account at work (@LifeSci_UoB). The experience so far has been enlightening and, while the work account isn’t hugely popular (yet…) I’ve learned that there are big differences between your personal account and when you tweet officially on behalf of an organisation. This post is about my experience and some of my advice for best practice; however, this is all my personal opinion (unless otherwise stated) and does not represent any kind of official policy for anyone, not at least my employer.
1. Make sure you have the full backing of your public relations/media department
If you are officially representing an organisation or company, then make sure that you’re allowed to do so – speak to your press office or public relations department if you have one. This is important from several perspectives – if you claim to represent someone, then other media outlets may use any tweets as official statements, which could be legally awkward if you say something defamatory. There may also be things that your organisation don’t want you to tweet about, so find this out first. Most big organisations should, by now, have a ‘social media policy’ which will state what you can and can’t do when representing your employer. If not, apply common sense – make sure what you tweet is true and positive, and if in doubt, don’t tweet. Conversely, it’s obvious who your employer is but you don’t claim to represent their views, make it clear on your Twitter profile.
2. Get lots of followers
Twitter can be great for raising brand awareness, but it won’t do you any favours if nobody follows you. Getting people to follow you, however, is a bit of an art. Start by following other users; if you’re a local business, find Twitter users in your local area and follow them. If you go to https://twitter.com/similar_to/[your username] Twitter will suggest other users that are similar to you – many of these will be worth following. The hope is that some of those people will see that you follow them, and decide to follow you back, but you can’t guarantee this. There’s no set ratio here but, in my experience, if you follow 10 people you may find 1-2 of those will follow you back. Accounts with thousands of followers probably won’t, but those with only a few may well do.
I wouldn’t suggest following hundreds of users immediately however. Accounts which follow 500 people, but are only followed by less than 50, for example, look suspicious. As a rule of thumb, keep the number of accounts you follow within 150% of the number of followers you have – so if 200 users follow you, then don’t follow more than 300 accounts yourself. If you follow someone, and they don’t follow you back within a few weeks, then unless they tweet interesting things that you can use, you’re best un-following them – they’re probably not interested in you.
Another good way to gain followers is to have a retweet and win competition – offer some kind of tangible prize to those users who retweet a tweet and who follow you. You can use sites like Competwition to widen your reach should you try this.
Finally, if someone follows you, then follow them back – they’re less likely to un-follow you.
3. You can probably ignore your main timeline
On my personal account, I’m selective about who I follow because I like to read all of the tweets on my timeline; consequently, if I lose interest in someone, I un-follow them. But if you followed the above advice, you’ll now be following a load of users who probably don’t tweet anything useful and so your timeline is most rubbish. Accept this, and then, for the most part, ignore your timeline. This may seem bizarre but, at least early on, you need to build an audience so you will end up following some people that you wouldn’t follow personally.
Instead, create a list (which can be private if you wish), and put the users that you actual want to follow on it. Then, read the tweets in that list, rather than your main timeline. If you use a client like TweetDeck, you can add this list as a column so that it works like your timeline would.
4. Become part of the conversation
Twitter is referred to as a ‘social media’ platform for a reason – you can create conversations and talk to users directly as well as broadcasting to everyone. Bear this in mind – whilst Twitter is a great way to broadcast your latest news item or press release, your followers may also want to reply to you. If you ignore them, there’s a risk that they’ll un-follow you or feel like you’re not listening to them. So, monitor your replies, and, if someone does tweet to you, respond to them. Again, I recommend using a desktop client like TweetDeck which clearly shows replies.
5. Be professional
Twitter’s 140 character limit can make it difficult to write using correct spelling and grammar, but try to do so where possible. Start sentences – even replies – with capital letters, and, unless you’re out of space, put full stops at the end. Sloppy grammar looks unprofessional and shows a lack of effort. And remember, everything you post is public – if a high profile Twitter user retweets a poorly written tweet then may find your brand gets ridiculed.
6. Use hashtags wisely
Hashtags can be a great way to get your posts noticed – some people have certain hashtags as saved searches so that they can follow them, and popular hashtags may appear in the ‘Trending Topics’ section on Twitter. According to Mashable, tweets with hashtags have a higher engagement level than those without.
But, don’t go overboard. One hashtag is fine, two is okay, but three or more will put people off. Many Twitter clients show hashtags in grey, so a tweet with lots of hashtags will be hard to read. And don’t use arbitrary hashtags as this will annoy people – make sure they’re relevant. In particular, only use a hashtag that’s trending if it is actually relevant to a tweet, as otherwise you could be accused of spamming and have your Twitter account suspended if other users report you.
7. Have a thick skin when dealing with complaints
You may find that people moan about you on Twitter, and mention your Twitter username in their tweets. This can be disheartening, but accept it. You can ignore these if you want, but, if you’re confident, try and engage with angry tweeters – if they have a genuine complaint, then take up that complaint and try to work something out. You may find that you can turn a negative situation into a positive one – I’ve seen people tweet complaints about a brand, only to then tweet praise about them later on after their issue is sorted.
However, don’t feed the trolls. Some people will post nasty things purely to get your attention and wind you up. Unless you’re very savvy (like O2 last week), they’re best ignored.
8. Don’t tweet for the sake of tweeting
The phrase ‘if you haven’t anything good to say, don’t say it’ comes to mind here. Ideally, you should tweet regularly – every couple of days at least – but for some organisations this may be difficult as not much happens on a day to day basis that is worth posting about. Whilst you can try to ignite a conversation, by asking your followers questions, on days when there’s little else to tweet about, don’t fall into the trap of tweeting inanities to kill the silence. And unless there’s something important going on, don’t tweet more than 3 or 4 times in a day, as some users will not appreciate their timelines being cluttered and could un-follow you.
This doesn’t apply to replies to tweets, by the way – because these will only appear on the timelines of those mentioned, you can do as many of these as needed.
9. Retweet some praise, but don’t go overboard
Some people will praise your brand on Twitter and you may wish to retweet this praise to your followers. This is generally a good thing, as users like getting tweets retweeted and so it will hopefully galvanise engagement with your brand. But again, do this in moderation – no more than once a day, so as not to annoy people with endless retweets. And, if users suggest your brand as part of Follow Friday, avoid retweeting these tweets as they don’t really add anything. However, a nice reply saying thank you may encourage that user to keep following you, as they’ll feel valued.
10. Accept that people will un-follow you
Despite your best efforts – tweeting regularly with interesting content without going overboard – people will un-follow you from time to time. Don’t take it personally – they may no longer find your brand interesting, or just want to cut their timeline down to a more manageable level. Some tools will tell you who un-follows you; personally, I wouldn’t contact these users. That said, some users will tell you that they’re un-following you and why – you can use this as constructive criticism if you wish.
So that’s my advice. Make of it what you will – it won’t apply to everyone but will hopefully help you use Twitter effectively.