Follow me on Twitter: @adrielhampton
Social media is fast-changing and vast in breadth and depth. Keeping up with it is more than a full-time job, and those who do it best rarely claim to be experts. In the sea of emerging new media, I’ve spent the most time learning how to use Twitter, a microblogging service supported by a vast ecosystem of supporting applications. Here, I am republishing many of my blog posts on Twitter strategy and breaking out links to the third-party applications mentioned within. First, a quick and dirty resource list:
- Explore, rank and review thousands of Twitter applications at OneForty;
- Link a Facebook page to automatically post updates to Twitter;
- Manage multiple accounts on a desktop or mobile device with tools like HootSuite, TweetDeck and Seesmic;
- Share official Twitter accounts using a CRM tool like CoTweet;
- Check out my Prezi on Twitter for Civic Engagement; and
- An in-depth analysis of San Francisco officials and agencies on Twitter.
And, here are a number of my blogs posts on Twitter strategy, updated and edited, and tool sets and key citations linked up front:
Remember that nearly all of the Twitter accounts with huge follow counts reached that status through Twitter.com’s “suggested user list,” which automatically signs new Twitter users up to follows a select groups of accounts. However, any purposeful Twitter user should be able to quickly target and grow a significant and relevant follower list of hundreds or thousands using these methods. This strategy is comprehensive and parsing it is likely to produce substandard results. There are alternatives to most of the tools explained here, many of which work just as well or better and can be substituted.
Growing followers: There are three proven ways to generate followers: Be famous outside social media; tweet A LOT; and, follow lots of people. We’ll tackle the latter two, especially following targeted users.
If you’ve not already been tweeting regularly, skip down to “Strategic messaging” and make sure you’ve got at least 30 good tweets before you start following anyone. Be sure to put in a photo, a link to your main website, and a complete bio – including the Twitter or full names of everyone responsible for the account.
Twitter has limits on how many people you can follow in a day, and in total. You may also be suspended as a spammer for randomly following people or for unfollowing too many people at once (“churn”). The strategies outlined here work best over the course of several weeks or months – don’t try to rush them.
Issue campaigns/causes: To identify tweeps who are likely to be interested in your agency or cause, search keyword tags at Listorious and TweepML. TweepML will save you substantial time by allowing you to follow up to 250 people from a subject matter list with a couple of clicks and a few minutes of processing. You can take lists straight from Twitter and follow the users through TweepML, and you can also create custom TweepML lists using Twitter Searchon keywords or hashtags.
Identify key supporters/influencers in your target community and see if they have lists on their Twitter page. You can also find accounts with similar messages to yours and follow the people who follow them.
Pay special attention to locating and following all tweeting journalists who might write about your agency or cause. Remember that even small groups of followers can be very valuable if they are influencers who have blogs, write for newspapers or have their own large social media communities.
Do not follow people randomly unless your only purpose is to generate a large number (sometimes good for traditional campaigns, but generally ill advised). If your intent is to simply amass followers, there are many popular lists on TweepML for reciprocal following.
While you should monitor an engage the people you follow with some regularity, for an agency or cause account, you won’t want to follow many, if any, people who do not follow you. Because Twitter discourages unfollowing and has shut down many sites that facilitate mass unfollowings, take care. Unfollow only after you have at least a few hundred followers and limit it to 100-200 a day or 10-20 percent of the people you follow. Use ManageFlitter daily to ratchet down the number of accounts that are not following you back (an alternative with more manual selection is MyTweeple).
If you don’t want to lose connection with someone by unfollowing, ask them with an @ message to follow you, and/or add them to a public Twitter list.
Disciplined, consistent following and unfollowing is key for building an influential account.
Autofollowing: You can automatically follow people who follow you using tools like Twollow, although manually screening the people you follow back is a quick process and advisable. Twollow also allows you to autofollow using keywords (though this can also get pretty spammy and is not suggested for official accounts). If you use Twollow’s free trial, note that it automatically bills if you don’t cancel.
Spending 30-60 minutes a day reading the stream of people you follow and retweeting (RT) or messaging them with authentic responses to what they are talking about is key to building a successful Twitter community. You can also use this time to search for people talking about relevant issues and to engage with them. This is simply not done well by most agency and cause accounts, but you can look at tweeps like @kim (arts community), @MayorSamAdams (Portland Mayor), and @CoryBooker (Mayor of Newark) for examples of highly interactive Twitter practices. Following and engaging with people may get you some interesting responses – often it will lead to positive messaging or even blog posts about your campaign or agency. If it gets a bad reaction, just ignore it and keep going.
It is absolutely essential to respond to relevant replies and direct messages, and in a timely manner.
You’re tweeting for an agency or a cause, so you know the message you want to send. Remember that Twitter runs on immediate gratification – many people like to RT or even donate or participate directly in relevant causes. It’s also a busy ecosystem and if you don’t tweet often enough you will not be seen. Three to 5 original tweets a day should be the minimum, plus RTs and replies. Tweet messages and links to interesting and relevant articles. You may need a community before you need a community, so be consistent.
(Note: Tweets that start with @ are parsed by Twitter as replies and are seen only by that user and people following both you and them. @s within a message are seen by all following you.)
Scheduling and managing: Use HootSuite on the web and on your smartphones to schedule tweets in advance and manage multiple accounts or share duties. Avoid repeating the same message more than twice a day or 5 times a week; however, building up to an ask or breaking a message into several tweets spaced by 10-30 minutes is good, too. Alternatives to Hootsuite include CoTweet, TweetDeck and Seesmic.
Automating: You can use Twitterfeed to keep your account going with relevant content, 24-7. Never schedule more than 1-2 messages every half hour, and consider spacing these automatic tweets out even more. Use the feeds to RT as specific user, or users tweeting about a hashtag or keyword (however, the latter can be dangerously random and is not suggested for most accounts). Twitter does not allow you load an RSS feed directly, so you need to create a simple Yahoo Pipe and then run the RSS and paste it into Twitterfeed. You can also link your blog’s RSS to a feed and set up several for an account. Setting up feeds can be a little tricky, so make sure to monitor it for funny business at the outset.
Linking your Facebook account(s) to update Twitter can also be a good move to keep content fresh, though the reverse is a major faux pas because it generally overloads the news feed of your Facebook friends.
If you’re still working on the basics of Twitter for organizations, check out this helpful guide from Learning Pool.
One Saturday, I noticed that my pal Nick Charney was getting a lot of buzz on Twitter while speaking at a big conference. In addition to his fearless innovation, Charney is well-known for his hairstyle, long bangs with a flip. I decided to have a little fun with Nick and his fans, and quickly set up a Twitter account for his hair, weaving it into the Twitter conversation around his talk and following several hundred Twitter accounts that advertise that they follow back other Twitter users. In 24 hours, Nick Charney’s hair had more than 500 followers on Twitter.
Twitter following, like many social media metrics, is ridiculously easy to game. Yet, in much mainstream analysis of Twitter and other social media numbers of followers are generally the primary metric used to compare accounts.
In the first eight years of my professional career, I worked as an editor and writer for several Northern California newspapers. Today, if I were tasked to analyze social media efforts of officials or politicians, here’s how I would do it:
Quality, Not Quantity
Good analysis is more art form than science – it all comes down to the factors one analyst or another considers important. The key to any good evaluation of use of social media is to state from the outset the factors you are analyzing. After extensive experimentation and practical use of social media, I can say without reservation that quantity of followers is far less important than the quality of those followers, as is the quality of the messages and interaction by the accountholder. On the numbers side, quantity and frequency of messaging is important – too few tweets or other status updates is a recipe for failure, while too many can be a sign of an undisciplined effort.
Broadcast and Conversation
Many officials on social media, especially those at higher influence levels, use the form for broadcast messaging only. On Facebook, does the office, official or campaign allow comments on their wall, and on the messages they post? On Twitter, do they respond to questions from other users? Are they using additional features like Lists that show they are monitoring conversation and followers? A quick way to check for Twitter responsiveness is to search for the user name and see if there are recent questions from followers. Did they get an answer?
Just like many officials and politicians are in broadcast-only mode in social media, it’s also common for staff to handle the messaging and interaction. Is it clear who is doing the tweeting? Extra points for transparency, doubly so if the official or candidate is updating for her or his self.
Any analysis of social social media should take into account the whole picture. If a candidate is on Twitter, do they have one active account, or more? Are they also using Facebook? A personal profile, a fan page, or both? Are they blogging, and does that blog have interactive commenting? Do they have a niche social network of their own on Ning or another custom social platform? Are all of these efforts current, and does each have a significant following? Are they all used in similar ways, or are they targeting different niches or needs? Are they geared towards numbers and social media cred, communicating with volunteers, or recruiting new supporters?
Follower counts are generally the key metric used in news stories, and they area reasonable number to include. Also key are how many other accounts the subject is following, how many status updates they make, how frequent those updates are, and, for Twitter, how many lists they are on.
Understanding Twitter’s “Suggested Users” List
Twitter has a feature called “Suggested Users” that suggests 20 users at random that new members should follow. Analysis has show that inclusion on this list radically increases a member’s following, but also that it fails to proportionally increase the quality of the member’s network. Inclusion on this list is usually the key determining factor whether an official has thousands of followers or hundreds of thousands.
Gaming Follow Counts
As mentioned in the intro, it is ridiculously easy to game follower counts. On Twitter, it is simply a matter of following back everyone who follows you, or automatically following people who mention keywords, using cheap Web tools. There are also thousands of sites that sell cheap advertising to build followers, and adding followers or Facebook fans through Google and Facebook advertising can also be effective. One easy sign to look for gamed follow counts is generic avatar pictures. On Twitter, does the official or candidate’s following or follow list show up a bunch of bird silhouettes? Probably not a quality network.
Facebook Profiles vs. Fan Pages
Adding Facebook fans and friends is not alike. With a personal profile, you can simple have a volunteer troll through friends of politicians with similar values and add friends, many of whom will reciprocate. However, Facebook presently limits these accounts to 5,000 “friends.” To add fans to a page, you need volunteers to actively invite their friends to “Like” the page. Or, you can advertise on Facebook asking for likes. Depending on budget, an office or candidate may target this to certain demographics, but, in another example of the meaningless of numbers alone, a wealthy candidate might tailor a message to the global audience of 400 million Facebook members, asking for friends, likes or followers.
Like for Like
You simple can’t compare a sitting official or a famous candidate to a more grassroots campaign, or a local agency or politician to someone with a larger demographic reach. In general, quantifying reach requires qualitative analysis.
Age of Accounts
It’s important to know how long an official or candidate has been active on a social media channel. For example, many older accounts simply grow in proportion to the network’s own growth. Also, consider whether use has been consistent, and look at growth rates.
Spammers and Kink
Along with the stories about how one politician has more followers than another, newspapers and traditional media just love to write about how a candidate or official is following a bunch of porn accounts. The gotcha story is easy, but it also reveals sloppy social media strategy. Any political social media effort following a bunch of marketing, spam and porn accounts is simply gaming follower counts and automating instead of building a quality network.
The Tool Kit
Twitter, in particular, lends itself to easy analysis through a rich ecosystem of third-party tools. Klout and Grader (Grader also looks at Facebook and blogs) are well-recognized tools for gauging influence, and Twitter Analyzer offers dozens of ways to look at a member’s network.
An Example: Whitman and Brown (September, 2009)
Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, and Jerry Brown, former CA governor and former mayor of Oakland, are the respective Republican and Democratic candidates in the open election for CA governor in November 2010. For this quick example, I’m looking simply at their Twitter accounts.
Whitman2010: When Did You Join Twitter? tells me that the Whitman campaign started on February 13, 2009. On Twitter.com, I see that the campaign is following 310 people, has 237,964 followers, and is on 1,583 lists. She has just over 500 tweets to date. A scan of recent tweets suggests that Whitman herself may be tweeting, but most are likely by staff and are broadcast-focused with light interaction.
Historical news coverage tells me that Whitman was a late addition to the Suggested Users list. She has a Klout score of 41 and is characterized by that tool as a “Though Leader.” Grader ranks Whitman at 20,032 of 7,694,703 measured users, with a score of 100.
Twitter Analyzer tells me that only 95,000 of Whitman’s followers are from the U.S. (I’m still looking for a reliable tool to parse location to smaller geographic regions). Her follower growth rate for August is very low. Analyzer has an incredible rich set of tools for digging out information; it tells me, for example, that one of Whitman2010′s Twitter best friends is Mass. Sen. Scott Brown.
JerryBrown2010: Brown’s campaign started Twitter on January 23, 2009. Twitter tells me that Brown is following 853, has 1,106,860 followers, and is on 1,907 lists. He has just under 700 tweets to date, mostly broadcast with light interaction, most of which look like staff tweets.
Brown was an early addition to the SUL. (I personally connected Brown’s campaign to my Twitter network when he had under 1,000 followers, and was at first surprised when I looked back a later in the year to find him at nearly 1 million.) Brown also has a Klout score of 41, and is characterized as a “Persona.” Grader ranks Brown at 17,615, with a score of 100.
Analyzer tells me that just under 410,000 of Brown’s followers are from the U.S. His follower growth rate is actually negative for August; he’s lost nearly 4,000 followers in the last month.
What this quick analysis shows me is that Whitman and Brown are closely matched on Twitter, despite Brown’s huge lead in followers. Without further analysis of recent followers, Whitman’s low follower growth rate vs. Brown’s decline actually indicates that she has moved into the lead in terms of the effectiveness of her Twitter efforts.
Most of what I’m doing on Twitter on a daily basis is working to build community. I’ve also got several other places where I’m doing similar things, but Twitter is definitely the largest pool where I reach out to new people to grow my personal network and evangelize a vision for government reform through social and collaborative technologies (Government 2.0). Consistently working on a large and closely connected personal Twitter network also helps when I have a need, like when I was trying to help a friend find a marrow donor for his sick daughter in early 2010. A point I make frequently is that you always want to build your networkbefore you really need it.
I regularly prune of the folks I follow on Twitter. This can be tedious work, but it’s important to my networking efforts. I try to follow back most accounts that follow me, as long as they look like they have live people or organizations behind them. Plenty slip through the cracks, though, and I begin find my feed a bit overrun with people using FriendFeed, Facebook and a slew of other services to pipe content to Twitter with zero interaction there. Unless it’s content highly useful to me – like feeds from a few blogs and news agencies – I generally unfollow those sorts of accounts.
Cutting loose spammy and dead accounts
During this exercise, I also notice two kinds of accounts from people who are obviously trying to use Twitter as a networking tool, but are going astray. There are the accounts obviously auto-following people (look for 1-to-1 follower-following ratios) and having little luck at engagement, and then there are those who’ve simply stopped tweeting.
Reviewing these accounts, it’s often clear that they had purpose in getting started, whether to tweet at a conference, to promote their business, or simple to build that network before it’s needed. Many of the folks who stop tweeting don’t say why, but enough do that I’m guessing it’s because they simple aren’t getting the kind of engagement they were promised or expecting. Sometimes they’re discouraged because they’ve got hundreds of Twitter followers but only a few of those click on the links they share.
My advice for networking on Twitter – and I believe the informational networking there is tremendously valuable – is to be strategic in how you build out your community. For example, if you’re trying to market SEO services, and sign up for a service that auto-follows anyone who tweets the words “social media,” you’ve totally missed any sort of practical audience. Sure, you can all retweet each others’ links and tidbits of wisdom, and yes, that may increase your personal SEO (which is one of the few good reasons to crank out content on Twitter without and personal engagement). But it’s not likely to get you customers. What if instead you identified local businesses and Chamber of Commerce members engaging on Twitter who might be interested in your services? Start interacting with them; build a relationship that will lead to real business.
If you’re the conferencegoer, figure out what Twitter hashtag people are using to tweet about the event, and make connections before, during and after by merging your Twitter and offline networking. Chances are, Twitter connections established there will continue due to shared interest or profession.
In late 2009, Gartner consultant Andrea DiMaio published a research noted defining Government 2.0 as “the use of IT to socialize and commoditize government services, processes and data.” His definition is one of the most solid and comprehensive I’ve seen, and it encapsulates many of the reasons social technologies are important to other businesses sectors as well:
“The socialization of information has multiple facets (government to citizens, citizens to government and government to government) and the boundaries between these facets are increasingly blurred. The next step will be the socialization of services and processes by engaging individuals and communities to perform part of existing government processes or transform them by leveraging external data and applications.
“Commoditization – which has already started with consolidation and shared services to reduce the diversity of infrastructure and horizontal application – will gradually move toward services and business processes.
Government 2.0 has seven main characteristics:
- It is citizen-driven.
- It is employee-centric.
- It keeps evolving.
- It is transformational.
- It requires a blend of planning and nurturing.
- It calls for a new management style.
- It needs Pattern-Based Strategy capabilities.”
I know that people use different social tools in different ways. However, I’ll always fight for two-way communication when that’s what the tool enables. That’s also because it’s offensive when someone wants to give you all their ideas and thoughts, but doesn’t respond to you on their channel, whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, a blog, whatever. That’s me, and I’m sure there are plenty of other opinions out there.
To consider – a Golden Rule for the social Web: Respect others’ time as you would have others respect your time.
Another one about me – I actively seek to engage with and increase my networks, and to balance that with my family and many other concerns, some of them much more important than the network. I also aim to respond to people quickly and directly – I’m not real fond of phone calls, or of e-mails (for first point of contact), but if you tweet me, I’ll usually get back within in a few hours.
Using Twitter tools to manage networks and productive time: three tools I’m very fond of these days are TweepleML, which enables one-click follow for lists of people (please load more of yours, it’s a little tilted toward spammy mutual-follow schemes right now); TheTwitCleaner, which cleans up spammers from the list of folks you’re following; and, MyTweeple, an oldy and goody, which I use for identifying and pruning non-mutual follows.
Plenty of folks add their Twitter activity to their blogs. Want to take it up a notch for your topic- or location-specific Web site?
All you’ve got to do it grab the Twitter RSS feed for a search term and add it to a text/html box on your site. I’ve got a feed for “Government 2.0,” just check the right column of my page to see what it looks like. You could do it for “San Francisco,” “social media,” “Barack Obama” or anything else you can imagine and that people are tweeting about.
I’m coming here from the perspective of a former report and editor and a political and community activist. I think of most of my networking in those terms, and Twitter is no different. If that’s not you, this post will still likely have some relevance.
Hashtags are critical to any organized activity.
A hashtag is simply the # sign in front of a word, with no spaces. Why is it powerful? Because Twitter tools like TweetDeck automatically assign a search link to the hash. Twitter also tracks popular terms, and by using a hash, you screen out words that really don’t need to be in the search. Like, if you are tracking a big tourist convention where folks are tweeting, you might use #tourist, but if you use just the word you are going to get more random comments.In your search, you can use just the word, which will give you everything, or the word with hash, which screens out @ (the handle) tag, and the random stuff.
Also, the standard Twitter @ reply function only picks up Tweets that start with that symbol, if your handle (Twitter name) is in the middle of a tweet you need a search or a third party application to see what people are saying to or about you (h/t to @ariherzog, who first pointed that out to me.)
The hash also signals to others that something is going on that they may want to read about or chime in on. If you are trying to actively promote a topic, like#bailout, a retweet campaign (covered below) with a hashtag is very powerful if you’ve got five or more people in on the action. If you can get the hashtag topic trending as a top term for the moment, you’ll enlist various bots (see this link) that will also pump the cause, and it will appear on the left side of the page on executed Twitter searches, adding even more fuel to the fire.
Tip: Remember to use just one word or an acronym or a hybrid word in your tag. Spaces between words will diminish the power of the tag. And long hashtags take up too much space when you only have 140 characters.
Think, then RT. (And rarely if ever rt yourself).
“RT” is short for “retweet,” which is basically just quoting someone else. It’s a great way of showing someone you approve of a comment they’ve made or to affirm them in general. As mentioned above, an rt (lowercase or upper both work) campaign with hashtags is very powerful.
However, RT etiquitte is difficult. Plenty of people are into RTs for their own sake, and try to get campaigns trending as a form of self-promotion. I don’t know about you, but this bugs the heck out of me. There are only a few things worse than repetititive and low quality content, which is basically another term, “Twitspam.”
And please, RT yourself sparingly, and only for something important. If you’re that clever, someone else will rt for you.
Automatic DMs equal automatic alienation.
Do you like form letters? Nobody else does either, and that’s exactly what an automatic direct message, or DM, is. If you don’t want to say something unique and personal to new people who follow you, don’t. You won’t offend them. But, you will offend them by sending the same obvious message as you send everyone else. And if it’s promoting your Web site, you won’t just offend them, you’ll make them mad. Trust me on this. Here’s some new info on how to opt-out of auto DMs.
Remember: DMs have a fuction, which is private messages to a close contact. They aren’t for rude remarks or spam. You also shouldn’t send one to someone you are not following, as they can’t sent one back.
Also, Some of us have DMs set up as SMS text alerts on our phones, so spam is very, very bothersome.
I generally don’t like Twitter bots – those annoying non-person accounts that automatically post people’s blogs or other content, but they are so easy to make. Just create an account, grab an RSS feed (Twitter mentions of World of Warcraft in this example), and use TwitterFeed to point your feed to the account.
Someone actually randomly did a bot to repost all my tweets. Someone’s done “Obama should.” Next one I want to see is “My boss.” Note that if the feed never interacts and people flag it as spam, Twitter may delete the account.
I like Twitter Lists, a lot. But what strikes me is that out of all the public lists out there, very few people are following lists compiled by others.
Few of the lists I’m on have more than 50 followers. Of the top lists on Listorious.com (great site, by the way), only a tiny fraction have more than 1,000 followers.
I’ve written a fair bit about why I like lists, but these low numbers show that few have the free attention to click and follow lists compiled by others, let alone track those streams. Social pro Chris Brogan wrote recently about how sometimes it looks from outside like he’s chilling out, but he’s really working. That’s what I think about Twitter for meaningful use – you get out of it what you put in. Lists are a great tool, but you’ve got to work them.
I recently wrote about giving your suggestion box a 2.0 twist with low-cost online collaboration and voting technologies. Crowdsourcing from stakeholders and front-line employees is one of the key areas where Web 2.0 technologies can help government, and last week I had the opportunity to talk with Clinton Bonner about CrowdCampaign, a Twitter app that allows users to quickly assemble branded crowdsourcing contests.
In addition to Twitter voting, the tool can also be used in conjunction with internal panels, ensuring that deep analysis goes into the mix with the viral social media components. The tool has been used for calls for speakers and papers, and can easily be adapted for just about any kind of crowdsourcing effort.
I recently wrote about the vibrant Twitter community organized around thehashtagging of the airport code for Edmonton, AB (#yeg). The use of the regional tag to organize Edmonton community tweets began in summer of 2008, and has become so popular it now grows organically without much thought to its backstory.
I’ve long argued that Twitter is very powerful for community building, with special value for generating civic engagement and pride and boosting local businesses. Knowing the benefits, and realizing them, though, is very different. Edmonton’s Twitter community has really blazed a trail, and it’s worth examining its success and drawing out a few lessons for would-be imitators.
According to #yeg enthusiasts who responded to my inquires on Twitter and my blogs, local software developer Mack Male and other influential social media enthusiasts deserve much of the credit for the tags’s success (the YEG airport code, now in common vernacular in Edmonton, was not used to describe the region before achieving Twitter popularity). Male regularly updates stats on Edmonton’s Twitter community, and in October cataloged more than 5,600 locals at least semi-active on Twitter and more than 18,000 tweets using the #yeg tag. There appear to be hundreds of Twitter users using the #yeg tag as part of their daily lives, and in-person meeutps get dozens of attendees (no small feat for Twitter communities, at least today).
Male, in a year-in-review blog post in June 2009, describes advocating the #yeg tag after learning at a conference that Twitter users in Calgary, AB, were organizing around their airport code, #yyc. (Twitter users in Victoria, BC, are also successfully using their airport code, #yyj).
This brings us to one of the first points that makes #yeg successful, and perhaps explains #yyc and #yyj as well: in a harsh climate isolated geographically, airport codes take on greater significance because residents are used to flying whenever they need to get somewhere else.
The #yeg buzzcronym also works because it’s easy to pronounce (rhymes with “egg”) and good for new self-referential words, says Edmonton journalist Karen Unland. Edmonton’s Twitter folk lovingly refer to one another and themselves as “yegsters” and “yeggers” (or “yeg’ers,” a construction that better utilizes Twitters search grouping function). They’ve built out the tag’s utility with features such asEdmonton traffic updates.
Edmonton’s yegsters have also built their community by taking the interaction offline, with tweetups organized around charities, political reform, open data, and other civic concerns. (Here’s a short video from a December 2009 tweetup benefiting the local food bank, courtesy of #yeg documentarian Jerry Aulenbach.) The hashtag unites Edmonton’s Twitter users around civic pride and involvement – even if they don’t follow each other in the traditional Twitter stream, many check up on the tag for its local flavor, discovering new connections and community in the process.
So, what is unique to Edmonton’s hashtagging that cannot be repeated elsewhere? Unique geography and a single regional airport seem important. Tourist hubs like Los Angeles, Vancouver, Los Angeles or San Francisco might simply suffer from random clutter (the SF Bay Area, where I live, is so large and full of urban and suburban density points, #sfowill likely never be much more than an airport). Jas Darrah, an Edmonton civil servant, emphasizes that adoption of #yeg was no accident and required key influencers actively promoting and training on its use. That included local press, institutions and government.
So, where might #yeg’s success be replicated? In the U.S., I’d suggest cities with significant populations and semi-isolated geography: Spokane, WA (GEG); Portland, OR (PDX); Bakersfield, CA (BFL); Tucson, AZ (TUS); Albequerque, NM (ABQ); Colorado Springs, CO (COS); Wichita, KS (ICT); Tulsa, OK (TUL); Pittsburgh, PA (PIT). Due to the aforementioned pronounceability factor, GEG, COS, TUL, and PIT gain an edge.
Even at this stage in the game, you could probably get five experts in a room and have each describe Twitter differently. Kind of like The Elephant and the Blind Men fable. But with the new lists feature, it’s growing easier to see whyand how people people are using this tool.
Two of the main reasons people use Twitter are to broadcast and to network. (Why people follow is similar, either to receive the broadcast, or to network – and probably a combination of both.)
I got to thinking about the Lists feature and what the ratio of followers to Lists says about a handle on Twitter. Folks are already blogging on this – here’s one on the “respect ratio.”
I think the ratio has a lot to do with value, and a lot to do with networking vs. broadcasting. Some folks are definitely on Twitter not to aggressively use Twitter, but simply because they are famous and so is Twitter. Others have a tight connection to their followers, because they are really tuned into the tone and culture of the medium. If you’re looking for quality folks on Twitter, a 1-to-1o list to follower ratio is generally a good sign.
If you don’t live in a metro area, social media community building can be daunting. Last year, I organized a charity tweetup in my medium-sized town and thought that at least several Twitter contacts were confirmed. It turned out as a small crowd of me and my best pal from up the street. Now, there are many other posts to be written about successful tweetups, and perhaps I’m not the one to write them. But I do have one action-oriented tool I wish had been there last year: location-based Twitter Lists.
In fact, I also wish I’d had this tool, or had created something like it, when I ran for U.S. Congress in a far-flung district of medium-sized towns. See, I believe that community building among social media users in a geographic area has great potential for businesses, activists and government. Twitter Lists are far better than Facebook’s location-based groups for this, because, unlike Facebook groups and friend lists, they are easy to share and manage and require no immediate buy in from the folks you’re listing.
I’ve got plenty of ideas on how to effectively use local Lists, and I hope you’ll share yours as well.
So, on to building them.
Getting ahead of the curve is what helps set you apart in the social media world. Be the first to build a valuable list and folks will notice. If you’re already in a big metro area, this is a no-brainer. The guidance here is for folks in the Twitter wastlelands. First, decide what towns you want to have in your list. Create a placeholder Twitter account for each one. Also create a List for each. Use the Google-powered LocaFollow.com to search out and bulk follow users in each town from its own Twitter account. Then add them to your town-specific list. Repeat for each of your towns, then create a new list for the region and add all your town-listed folks to this one. Ta-da, you’ve got micro- and macro-targeted lists to build community within.
Lists are a fabulous discovery tool, a data rich and hand-picked crowd tagged with a descriptor by, most likely, one of your valued contacts. Lists from your real contacts, instead of being just another popularity measure, are going to open up their networks in a simple format that cuts right through spam and allows discovery whenever YOU feel like exploring. This benefit of lists was anticipated, and hopefully it will quiet down some of the Follow Friday noise of dataless name-dropping (though now folks can urge following of their lists!). One thing I’m looking forward to is a quick tool to follow individual handles off lists in your regular timeline, in bulk.
Lists provide a crowdsourced tagging system for each handle, along with builder-defined common communities. They teach others about you, and you about how you’re perceived. It’s the crowdsourcing of bios, and finally I can make sense of those who don’t fill theirs out.
- ‘Managing 140-character records’
- ‘10 ways to archive your tweets’
Some officials are going with the flow and Facebooking up a storm. Others seem to have some misunderstandings about how certain services work (one official says his agency “doesn’t receive tweets,” an impossibility in Twitter’s architecture; another apparently asks friends to remove racy posts – though in Facebook it’s simple to delete something offensive posted by another to your digital wall).
And beyond all the hand-wringing there is certainly an interest in following even low-level politicians on these social networks.
Clearly, in a complex and litigious culture juggling concerns of privacy and public accountability/transparency, there’s a market for social media adepts to teach and serve government agencies and officials.
In context, public-interest dicusssions on private e-mail are still a bone of contention in records’ suits. Law offices around the country are working on electronic discovery issues, and social strategists are considering the implications of prima facie transparency that still allows for private communications (such as the Twitter direct message feature).
I guess this new age of transparency, collaboration, and two-way interaction between citizens and officials is going to keep the lawyers busy. Or can the social contract grow as fast as the technologies?
I want to talk a bit about why I have a bunch of Twitter handles, and how I use them.
I use several handles to focus on specific issues and to build community. I also have split handles to separate elements of my professional and political life. Here’s a brief rundown:
“Me.” My first and most-used handle is simply @adriehampton. I use this identity almost 24-7 from Web, Tweetdeck and my smart phone by mobile Web and text.
Politics. I have a seperate handle for if I want to live-tweet a political event, and to keep my primary account from flooding my broader community with partisan views. In addition to that “political me,” I have created topical political accounts
One of my favorite handles is @govwiki, which retweets the tag #gov20. This handle allows folks from across the government community to see what their peers are talking about and to find others they may want to follow and collaborate with.
So, there are as many ways to use Twitter as there are users. But I’ll depart from many of my fine friends who state there are no wrong ways. There are plenty.
Right now, I want to talk about politicians on Twitter. Lots of government folks are using the service, and I’ve already highlighted many of the best, here. There are also several great more comprehensive lists. Two of the most complete are edited by Ari Herzog and by Steve Lunceford and his BearingPoint team, here and here. Additionally, TweetCongress is actively working to enlist our elected reps on the site.
I admire these efforts, and do what I can personally promote the use of Web 2.0 tools like Twitter by politicians. However, I firmly believe that Web 2.0 is defined by a culture, not the use of certain tools. In that vein, it is easy to see that most of the politicians using Twitter are not even close to the collaborative spirit enabled and enhanced by Web 2.0. And, as people who want to/claim to represent us in a democracy, I say, for shame.
I could make a huge list of politicians who are absolute fails on Twitter, using it as a one-way channel to tap into active users like hard-core partisan conservatives, but giving back not a whit. Many fail to follow back more than a handful of people, showing just how much interest they have in what their constituents are talking about. Really, how hard is it for an aide to help organize and track the account, just like any other constituent service?
But, instead of going on with a fail list, which would be just about as long as the aforementioned lists by Ari and Steve, let me highlight a few pols whose Twitter use I admire.
In picking these few out, I know that I am being extremely subjective. I will say though, that I have some right to make subjective judgments. I’m a career communicator, journalist, information-gathering expert, political activist, and avid Twitter user.
That said, here is where I am coming from: I don’t think any pol should be devoting a large share of their resources to Twitter. It is a niche communications channel, an important one, but small. I’m not really opposed to staff driven tweets, but I do want honesty about that. I’m also not really turned off on feeds – if you want to update your Twitter account just like a traditional Web site, that’s a valid option. That said, I do think that pols who tweet should follow back most people, with the exception for the overly abusive. They should take the time to learn, or have staff learn, the sites quirks and nuances before dropping in like somebody special. And though I’m very forgiving of much Twitter use, I personally only follow people who interact (so, no Barack Obama).
Also, I feel these issues are more serious than with “celebrity” accounts. Politicians aren’t celebrities – they are elected by people to represent those people. With those criteria in mind, here are three pols really getting into the Twitter spirit (and I had a little trouble counting to three):
- Texas Congressman John Culberson: Hands, down, Mr. Culberson is the best I’ve seen. He’s interactive, communicates important news and thoughts, and connects well with his base and others in the political and governance space. I disagree with many of his positions, but I’ve had a few good chats with him. Plus, he’s open to advice from peeps. Well done, sir.
- California Secretary of State Debra Bowen: Ms. Bowen is a newer user on Twitter (she’s been active on Facebook much longer, doing a great job), and far from a prolific tweeter. However, she’s taken time to get the feel for it, talking about everything from politics to her love of gardening. She’s for real – got the legislature online in 1993, and the first CA legislator to have official e-mail. I’m excited to see what she does in the future.
- San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom: I was weighing this one, since it’s still a bit fuzzy how much of this is the mayor and how much is staff. Not that I have a problem with that, but I like it to be clearly stated. Give the mayor, an early candidate for the 2010 CA governor’s race, credit for talking about his Twitter account during radio appearances and with the mainstream media. How do you think he got past 30,000 follower just weeks after beginning to actively use the long-dormant account (and well past a million in 2010 thanks to addition to the Suggested Users List)? He’s also keeping his peeps happy, which is one of the ultimate tests.