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There is a promised land for government organizations– one where citizens pay attention to public agencies’ information and pass it along to others, spreading the word for all to hear. Although there are many paths to the promised land, your journey will likely pass through Twitter.

But the roads can be treacherous. You can easily get lost along the way and end up in the “land of nobody listens”, or worse, the land of “nobody cares.” While the rules are not etched in stone, the guide below will help you learn how to use Twitter effectively and lead you safely to the promised land of transparency, participation and engagement.

Click on the hyperlinked section titles below for a sneak peek at the type of tips and tricks you’ll find in our two guides: 15 Commandments for Government Agencies on Twitter and 12 Commandments for Government Employees on Twitter

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15 Commandments for Government Agencies on Twitter

1. Thou Shalt Listen Before Your Leap

2. Thou Shalt Use Thy Profile Info Properly

3. Thou Shalt Have a Disclaimer

4. Thou Shalt Not Bully

5. Thou Shalt Tweet Regularly

6. Thou Shalt Integrate Thy Tweet Approval Process

7. Thou Shalt Not Register Alternate Accounts

8. Thou Shalt Not Automate Thy Tweets

9. Thou Shalt Tweet in First Person

10. Thou Shalt Not Bait and Switch

11. Thou Shalt Not Spam

12. Thou Shalt Be Selective of Who You Follow

13. Thou Shalt Monitor Thy Account

14. Thou Shalt Contribute to the Conversation

15. Thou Shalt Measure for Success

12 Commandments for Government Employees on Twitter

1. Thou Shalt Not Spam

2. Thou Shalt Not Leave Profile Information Blank

3. Thou Shalt Not Forget the Rules

4. Thou Shalt Not Bite the Hand that Feeds

5. Thou Shalt Not Hide Your Affiliations

6. Thou Shalt Not Bait and Switch

7. Thou Shalt Tweet Regularly

8. Thou Shalt Contribute to the Conversation

9. Thou Shalt Be Selective About Who You Follow

10. Thou Shalt Use Lists

11. Thou Shalt Grow Your Followers the Right Way

12. Thou Shalt Seek the Greater Good


Thou Shalt Listen Before You Leap

We cannot emphasize enough the fact that any government organization should learn to monitor social media before they even attempt to create a Twitter (or any other type of) account.

If you went to a social function and saw a group of people in the midst of a discussion, would you just barge in and start talking about your work and your interest? No, you would walk over to the group, listen in a bit to see what they are talking about, and then when there was an opening to add value to the conversation, you would chime in. The same principle should be applied to social media, especially on Twitter. The important lesson for government agencies while using social media is to go where your citizens are. Listen in on their concerns, needs and interests. And then contribute where it adds value.

There are many tools you can use to monitor your Twitter accounts and listen to your citizens. If your agency wants to broaden and monitor multiple social media channels (and you have the money), you can go for one of the big guys (Radian6, Scout Labs, Alterian).
On the cheaper side, Hootsuite, TweetDeck and Seesmic all offer free or very affordable social media management/monitoring solutions. You can do a lot of cool things with these tools. One cool feature is that you can link your Facebook account with your Twitter account, this will save you a lot of time posting content in multiple locations.

Also worth mentioning are Social Mention and Google Alerts. But for a simpler approach, you can start with Twitter Advanced Search, Monitor and Twitterfall to name a few other tools you can use to monitor Twitter.

GovLoop Tip: Use the Search Function
Comment in the Twitterati Group from GovLoop member Sam Allgood:
“Search for terms in your area of interest to find people to follow who are tweeting about the area. Once following, read their tweets for hints on how to tweet. Check out different tools like TweetDeck and to find a tool that is comfortable for you.”

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Thou Shalt Not Automate Thy Tweets

I know it can be tempting! Automation reduces the workload, but there are two major drawbacks:
1 – It is not social
2 – It can get you in trouble!

Nothing says “I don’t really give a darn about this engagement nonsense” better than automated tweets, replete with cut off text and links because the person inputting the titles to your news releases or page titles knows nothing about Twitter. If you are going to tweet, take the two extra minutes to craft a tweet that at least shows a genuine interest in sharing valuable information.

Double trouble!
Forgetting for a moment that this is against Twitter rules, you may remember recently that some politicians (who shall remain anonymous) recently got a nasty surprise when false tweets began showing up on their accounts. You see, these politicians were tweeting the RSS feeds of a higher up whose site had been hacked. So the false tweets were being spread through out their network of tweeters. Needless to say, they don’t do that anymore!

One thing that is accepted and in fact, good practice is to schedule tweets ( it helps if you are using a Twitter client). If it is very important information, you could Tweet it when it comes out and schedule a similar tweet for peak viewing times ( usually, early morning, early afternoon, and after dinner time) If your target audience is in a different time zone, you should take that into account.

What if your audience is international? You could plan 3 tweets at 12 hour intervals. Just make sure there is different content that appears between those tweets so it doesn’t look like you are just tweeting the same thing over and over.

GovLoop Tip: Use the Right Language
Make sure you are using language online that your audience is receptive too. This will take some time to feel out. You don’t have a lot of space in a tweet, so think critically about each character. GovLoop Member David Ferguson shares his experiences:

Things I don’t care for (recognizing this is only my opinion): excess of exclamation points. ALL CAPS stuff. Gratuitous personalization, as in “I just checked out the Libraries list of upcoming events. Wow! “ — who’s *I* and why is he so easily impressed?

And, oh, heavens, the bureaucratic passive: “Public Encouraged to Attend The Next Budget Forum.” (their quirky title caps.)

So, have a clear voice and don’t try too many tricks. It is very challenging to describe a link in less than 140 characters, but this is an essential skill an agency needs to master.

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Thou Shalt Not Forget the Rules

As a government employee, you are subject to more laws, policies, rules and guidelines than you could get out in one breath — or even a few. You may think these do not apply to activities you do in your own time, but chances are they do.

Before you start tweeting, a best practice is to check with your Human Resource department for any existing policies or guidelines your agency might have for social media use. Once you learn your agency’s rules, make sure you adhere closely to them.

Regardless of what your agency’s policy might be, here are a few pieces of common-sense Twitter etiquette:

  • Never tweet privileged information (i.e., information that you got through your work that is not publicly available)
  • Never tweet sensitive or private information about anyone you work with, any of your clients, any of your stakeholders, etc.
  • Be judicious when tweeting personal information
  • Some governments also have rules of political neutrality for their public servants, which means that taking sides on an issue of public policy could be the unintended start of a new career for you.
  • Do not tweet excessively to a personal account while at work
  • You may think direct messages (DMs) are private, but there’s always room for error

GovLoop Tip
Always provide attribution in your posts. Just like when writing a report, if you post content that is not your own and neglect to cite it properly, you are inviting trouble. To remove any risk of confrontation, always be sure to give credit where it’s due by using RT (retweet) or HT (hat tip) and the person’s profile name.

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Thou Shalt Grow Your Followers the Right Way

If you are still reeling from the spam section of this guide, you may be wondering how to grow your followers, and your influence on Twitter, without just following a bunch of people. The good news is that there is a proper way to do those things that is actually better for you in the long run.

First, follow any colleagues or anyone you know on Twitter (clients, peers, etc). Then start engaging those people. Tweet, mention them when you come across something they might find valuable, retweet their good posts, etc. This will show potential followers you are a good citizen of the Twittersphere.

Next, search for terms on topics that you want to tweet about. Look at who is tweeting in those spaces. Follow the good ones and engage with them (see above). If they follow you back, reply in person to say thank you.

By continuing to follow these steps, you are not just gaining followers — you’re building a powerful network you can count on when it matters.

GovLoop Tip
If you’re looking for people to connect with that you already know, Twitter has built-in tools to look through your e-mail address book.

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Want more tips about how to optimize your or your agency’s twitter strategy? Download the full version of our guides by filling out the form above!

Our guides are packed with tips and advice from government employees like you and industry experts. Download the guides today to find out how Twitter can help you do your job better.