8 Years of Twitter, 5 Keys to Excellence


by Zach Friedman

It took Twitter two years to reach its billionth tweet. Today it takes two days. In its first eight years, Twitter has fundamentally changed the way we communicate and share information – it allows information to travel so fast that the U.S. Geological Survey now uses the tool to augment its earthquake monitoring. With 230 million active monthly users, Twitter is the global town square, a place where everyone can come to discuss important issues. But while everyone on Twitter has an equal opportunity, we do not all share an equal voice.

With so much information traveling so quickly to so many people, it is easy for your organization’s voice to get lost in the madness. Twitter is the most powerful social tool in the world, and it requires a strategy to use effectively. Sean Evins, Partner Manager of Government & Politics for Twitter, recently spoke at the Cato Institute in Washington DC and shared five advanced techniques for organizations to succeed on Twitter.

Target – Understand your organization’s goal on Twitter and create a handle that supports that purpose. Observe the conversations surrounding your issue and engage users who share your common interest. Organizations that listen to their audience and engage in two-way conversation are most successful at building loyal communities.

Write – Content matters. Followers expect your organization to be a resource and it’s your responsibility to supply them with useful content. Provide web links, interesting photos and relevant news articles that add value to your content and advance the conversation for your community.

Give your organization’s handle a distinct voice and do not be afraid to be authentic. Moments of raw honesty can open the door for meaningful engagement and community growth. Sen. Chuck Grassley’s unfiltered tweet about colliding with a deer went viral due to its eccentricity, but in turn led to an honest policy debate with his constituency about the length of hunting season in Iowa.

Most importantly for your content, however, is that your organization is transparent. Never delete a tweet from your organization’s handle without an explanation. It looks suspicious and isolates you from your community. People understand mistakes. They are not as forgiving of cover-ups. If your organization finds itself in a bind, a little humor and self-awareness can go a long way to turn crisis into opportunity.

Engage –Twitter’s worldwide appeal is that it allows conversation in real-time. Use it! Take advantage of the @-reply to have routine conversations with users who want to engage with your organization, or use Twitter as a tool to provide real-time updates during a crisis or breaking news event. In the aftermath of Asiana Flight 214’s crash at San Francisco International Airport, the National Transportation Safety Board’s handle cemented its value and authority by continuously sharing real-time updates and photos.

Additionally, branding your organization’s events with a hashtag will expand participation beyond those in attendance and drive increased engagement. The hashtag also allows you to track the conversation, contribute, solicit questions and respond all in real-time.

Get Visual –Twitter makes no secret of its desire to become more photo-centric, and neither should your organization. Use visuals to encourage action from your audience. Photos are nearly double as likely to receive engagement from your community. If budget and deadline prevent you from creating an infographic, infoVines are a quick and powerful tactic to grab attention and drive engagement around your cause.

Explore – Use all of the tools that Twitter offers. Twitter is constantly producing new features to make users more effective. Here are a few to consider for your organization:

  • Twitter Lists –Lists are the most efficient way to keep track of all your organization’s influencers.
  • TweetDeck – This tool enables your organization to monitor activity, view lists and schedule tweets from a single dashboard.
  • List Filters – TweetDeck allows you to filter your lists’ content to ensure you catch breaking news items and tweets that are relevant to your organization. You can filter your lists by key terms, retweets and users.
  • Twitter Cards – Twitter cards immediately enrich content, make it more suitable for portable devices and increase user views. With a few lines of HTML added on the backend of your organization’s webpage, tweets that link back to that page will automatically expand as a summary, photo, player or others.

Beyond these steps, keep track of trends and coming changes to the social network to continue to cultivate best practices with your organization’s Twitter handles. Eight years in, Twitter is constantly updating itself with new looks and features. Twitter’s developers and media blogs offer tutorials and industry-specific best practices to help organizations adapt to changes. Use these resources to stay ahead of the curve – or you may wake up one day and find that hashtags are extinct.

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