Think Before You Tweet
By Brian Selander
There are hundreds of great articles, books and tutorials on how to become a more active and engaging presence on Twitter. Being a public official who wants to communicate in 140 characters or less comes with a unique set of challenges and opportunities.
Here are a handful of things I picked up while working as the chief strategy officer to
@GovernorMarkell of Delaware to keep in mind when navigating the Twitterverse.
Take advantage of your status to engage high profile people. Public officials like celebrities as much as anyone and can be particularly, and deservedly, envious of the number of celebrities’ Twitter followers. But celebrities often enjoy the chance to be heard by public officials, especially when they have something to say. If you have any connection to them—Did they grow up in your district? Speak about your agency’s most critical mission?—do not be afraid to work them into a tweet. One small example—Gov. Jack Markell happened to drop a Counting Crows lyric into one of his weekly addresses, fessed up to it on Twitter and thanked the band for their great nonprofit work. They shared it with their 1.3 million followers and the governor picked up some new fans.
First person first—even when it’s staff: Tweets are read with the impression that they are personal expression of the face in the profile picture. But a lot of electeds or their offices type in the third person (“The senator co-sponsored the Education Reform Act today …” or “The secretary announced sweeping changes …”). Don’t. Speak like you would in person, albeit in much shorter phrases (“Isn’t it time we fix this problem? Here’s a new way we are trying.”) If your staff tweets for you, make clear in your profile when readers will be able to tell the tweet comes directly from you. We started in the governor’s office by signing staff-written tweets with the first letter of our names, but moved to him signing his –JM instead.
Stay on top of your pre-scheduled tweets: A number of programs give you the chance to load up your tweets to run at a future time; we used HootSuite in the governor’s office. For example, if you are having a press conference the next morning, you can load up some of your better words or phrases the night before so you can pay more attention to the event while you are there. Or if a great nonprofit is having an event in the morning, you can load up best wishes the night before. But sometimes disasters happen or tragedies strike, and the cheery “Good luck @Wildcats food drive …” sounds incredibly inappropriate given the flood waters rising in a local neighborhood. When something bad breaks, check in to remind yourself what you prescheduled.
Apologize. Do not delete. There are programs that capture and websites that highlight tweets that get deleted from public officials of a particular level. If you make a mistake—whether of the “sat on your phone tweet” variety or the “oh, goodness, the intern accidentally tweeted WHAT?”—it is usually better to simply acknowledge it, correct it and apologize for it than to delete it, get it flagged by one of those sites and plant an enormous red flag on the offense.
Follow new U.S. Sen. Cory Booker. Not just “follow” @corybooker, but really follow how he connects with people. He broke 1 million Twitter followers as a mayor for a lot of reasons, but his authenticity and the frequent “inside looks” into his life are good models.