Below is a guide to understanding Twitter and maximizing the effectiveness of your unit’s Twitter presence.
Table of Contents
Senior E-communications Marketing Manager, University Marketing
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What is Twitter?
Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging platform that allows users to send and read “Tweets”—posts of up to 140 characters that can include photos, videos and links. The basic aim of a Tweet is to answer the question, “What are you doing?” When the answer to that question is interesting, it can create engagement with other Twitter users. Twitter is a selective, two-way broadcast communication tool—you send out succinct messages and see others’ in real time—and is excellent for distributing content widely and rapidly.
On Twitter, anyone can read, write and share Tweets, which are public and available to anyone interested in them (though Twitter allows the option to make an account private). Twitter users subscribe to your messages by following your account. Followers receive all of your messages in their timeline, which is an aggregated feed of all the accounts they have subscribed to.
Tweets: Tweets are text-based posts used to share updates, news, messages, photos, videos and other content in 140 characters or fewer. Tweets are listed in a user’s timeline based on the local time when they are sent.
Username: Each Twitter user has a unique username or “handle.” When choosing a handle for your unit, it’s best to go with something recognizable rather than clever (e.g., the UW School of Drama uses @UWDrama).
Following: Following is the opt-in mechanism for Twitter users. Some Twitter accounts allow anyone to follow them, while others require approval before you can view their messages.
Hashtags: A hashtag is a searchable Twitter topic, marked with the “#” symbol (e.g., #UW150). You can find all messages containing the same hashtag by searching for that topic within Twitter (see example below).
Mention: A Twitter mention links to another user’s handle within a Tweet, recognizing their account and bringing them into the conversation. Example, as Tweeted by @UW: “Looking for a Friday night activity? Free archaeology event right now @burkemuseum for the next 2 hours.” In this case, the @UW account “mentioned” the @burkemuseum username. The Burke’s Twitter administrator will be notified under the “Connect” tab and can respond to or Retweet the message.
Retweet – A Retweet (RT) or modified Tweet (MT) is a method of sharing a previous post by another user. There are two primary ways to Retweet a post: You can copy an existing Tweet and add the letters “RT” and the handle of the original Tweeter to the message (e.g., “Enjoy this. RT @username Interesting message worth sharing.”); this type of Retweet lets you add a comment (like “Enjoy this”). Or you can hover over the Tweet you want to share and click the “Retweet” link. A message that is shared via Twitter’s Retweet function is marked with a green arrow in the top right corner (see below); it can’t be edited.
- Retweeting is a key means of curating content and engaging in conversation with other users. Popular content on Twitter often emerges as a result of mass Retweeting. Thought leaders, celebrities and breaking news sources all benefit from large-scale organic sharing by Twitter users.
Message: You can send a direct message to another Twitter user by beginning your Tweet with that user’s handle, in which case anyone following both you and the recipient can see it. To send a private communication to another Twitter user, you can use the Direct Messages option (“DM”), which is accessible from your profile. Direct messages are useful when you would like to call attention to an upcoming or past Tweet, or to connect with a user outside of the Timeline stream.
Why use it?
As of December 2011, Twitter had 250,000,000 Tweets each day and more than 100 million active users.
For Twitter to be an effective communication channel, you need to post and engage consistently. The general rule of thumb for UW units is a minimum frequency of every other day. If you don’t anticipate being able to keep up with that schedule, then Twitter may not be the right tool for your unit right now.
Account: Create Twitter account for your unit (it’s free). Choose a username or “handle” that’s short (so people can fit it into their Tweets) and that clearly represents your unit’s identity. Consider adding “UW” to the front, as in “@UWUnitName).
Profile: Give your profile a name (though it shouldn’t be an exact repeat of your handle) and try to keep it to 20 characters or fewer. For example, the main UW Twitter account uses the handle @UW but the profile name “U. of Washington.” The provide a brief description and/or tagline and a link to your website.
Background: Twitter offers both prefabricated backgrounds and options for customizing your own. You can upload images, choose a background color and/or add text to visually represent your unit.To change your background:
- Click the Edit your profile button.
- Click the Design tab.
- Click the Browse button to upload your image, which must be under 800 KB, with a total image size around 1600 pixels wide by 1200 pixels tall.
For more tips, read Mashable’s guide to Twitter backgrounds.
Image/icon: Use a UW brand-appropriate logo or image that’s representative of your unit.
Strategy: When crafting a Twitter strategy, consider the following questions:
- Who is our audience?
- What do we want to accomplish?
- What will success look like?
- How are we going to do it?
- How will we measure our success?
Usage policy and guidelines: Here is Tufts University’s guidelines/policy page as an example; the UW is still finalizing its university-wide guidelines.
Editorial Calendar: Your Twitter presence can benefit from coordination just like any other communication; tools like BaseCamp, DivvyHQ, WordPress Editorial and Google calendar can be help. Twitter is spontaneous by nature, though, and it’s important to remain flexible so you can take advantage of timely opportunities.
Update: Simply type the content of your first update in the “Compose new Tweet” field and click Tweet.
Connect with your audience on Twitter and beyond by linking your properties and engaging other users.
Follow: After you create your unit’s account, Twitter will suggest users for you to follow based on your profile information. From there, you can build your timeline and find users by searching, following links from other websites, adding individual usernames or taking Twitter’s suggestions.
Link: Post a link to your Twitter account profile on other social media properties, throughout your website and on your printed and emailed materials.
Share buttons: Add “Share on Twitter” buttons for users to tweet your website content from their accounts as well as a “follow” button for them to follow your Twitter account. Share buttons are best used on article pages, you can place a follow button on any navigation page.
Connect: This tab shows all of the activity around your account, including mentions, replies, follows, favorite notations and Retweets.
Discover: The Discover tab shows your followers’ activity, trending topics, suggestions for accounts to follow and categories for browsing.
Mention: The more you refer to the handles of other Twitter users in your Tweets, the more likely they’ll be to respond and pass your message on to your followers—expanding your reach and visibility.
Lists: Twitter lists are an effective way to aggregate content by topic, theme, location or other attribute.
Microcontent: “…short content that needs to be immediately clear and inviting to a reader, and which still make sense when removed from its original context.” (Jakob Nielsen) Twitter is the place for microcontent: simple, engaging and shareable.
Types: photo, video, question/conversation, news item, quote, book/article review, emergency alert, online event, link, call to action.
Events: “Live-Tweeting” is a way to share events with your audience in real-time. This technique, which Tweets quotes, event details and highlights, is often used by people attending a conference or speech.
Frequency: There is no exact formula for how often to post a Twitter update or respond to others. Marketing industry experts suggest that you start by posting several times per week and then increase according to your audience’s response and data you collect through analytics tools like link shorteners.
Link shorteners: You can use link shortening services such as bit.ly and tinyurl.com to conserve characters and track link clicks.
Timeliness: With 250,000,000 Tweets each day (per Twitter) and an average of 80+ accounts that each Twitter user follows, most people have a steady stream of Tweets in their timeline—most of which were sent less than an hour prior. Twitter works best in real-time, when users can talk about a topic or event happening in the present. It’s important to Tweet when your audience is most likely to see your post; you can refine your timing as you learn from your analytics.
Tone: With its 140-character limit, Twitter lends itself to abbreviations, acronyms and other linguistic shortcuts.
Relevance: When composing a Tweet, remember to provide information that followers might want, like exclusive updates, timely news or tips for making their lives easier or helping them get things done.
Audience: Your unit’s audience on Twitter comprises your followers plus those who follow your followers—and who see content of yours they’ve shared or mentions they’ve made of you. Many marketers are concerned with the size of their Twitter following, but most experts agree that engagement and reach are equally important and represent a more accurate view of impact.
Monitor, Measure and Analyze: You can easily measure and analyze data on ReTweets, reach, follower numbers, link click-throughs and the like using any number of tools. You can use many of the same tools to listen to conversations about your brand on Twitter and learn more about your audience’s habits.
Free tools: Klout, Backtweets, Topsy, Twitter Grader, Social Mention, Wildfire’s Social Media Monitoring and Twitter’s own Advanced Search.
Pay tools: Radian6, Twitter Web Analytics (for advertisers on Twitter), Meltwater Buzz, HootSuite Pro, Raven, MonitorThis, Sprout Social, Trackur, uverVU, Thrive, Research.ly, eCairn, Actionly and BuzzStream.
Key questions for listening:
- Who are your followers?
- Who is sharing (Retweeting, replying to, etc.) your messages?
- Who is recommending you to others?
- What are people saying about your brand?
- Which messages are Retweeted and which links are clicked through?
- How many people have you reached with your Tweets, and how engaged are they?
Third-party management tools: There is a mix of free, paid and “freemium” (free with a paid “Pro” version available) tools to help you manage your unit’s Twitter account and monitor your brand’s reach on Twitter.
- Free and “freemium”: Seesmic, CoTweet, HootSuite, TweetDeck, SocialOomph, Brizzly and Timely.is
- Pay: Spredfast, CoTweet Enterprise, Awareness
- The Retweetability Index: Dan Zarrella of HubSpot created a tool that analyzes the most ReTweetable words about any particular topic.
Customer service: Twitter is a platform for two-way conversation. You’ll notice that users (who may or may not be followers) will sometimes comment on your Tweets or mention you independently. Engage with these conversations when it’s appropriate, and when it can further engagement and cultivate relationships. Negative comments on Twitter in particular present an opportunity to acknowledge the concerns of your community and a) show that you are listening, b) influence perception and c) increase brand advocacy once users feel heard and addressed.
Examples of effectively written Tweets:
Gloria Steinem, 2nd-wave feminist leader, comes to Stanford to celebrate Ms. Magazine's 40th anniversary: http://t.co/ZrYGlt5J
— Stanford University (@Stanford) January 23, 2012
This is the most popular coffee in Peru. It's delicious. What country is your favorite coffee from? http://instagr.am/p/FXMas/
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) June 8, 2011
We have extra tickets for the Southwest screening of Robot and Frank 6pm at Holiday Theater – find the cousin Eddie hat! #Sundance
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) January 22, 2012
— U. of Washington (@UW) October 12, 2012
Suggestions for using Twitter creatively:
- Create Hashtags for your next event, a relevant conversation, research topic or class.
- Gather data by asking questions or using a polling tool.
- Share pictures, videos and Tweets from events.
- Ask for feedback from events and initiatives.
Building an audience: You can grow your unit’s followers by sending community members to your Twitter account from your other properties; it’s also important to follow relevant accounts, include Twitter in broader communications campaigns and engage in conversation with existing followers. These measures will all help to increase your unit’s reach on Twitter.
- A Tweet or reply that starts with a handle (@name) is only visible to followers of both handles.
- While it might be tempting to set an automatic service to combine Facebook posts and Tweets, the most effective messages are customized to their platform and different audiences.
- Don’t use Twitter solely as a promotional tool; it works best as a platform for conversation and reciprocity.