Get started with Twitter

Twitter is a great tool for any organisation wanting to reach out and connect with stakeholders and partners. Although some see it as a megaphone to shout out a message, a more careful use of Twitter can make it a brilliant two-way communications tool that allows you to find out about your audience, as well as spreading the word.

1. How does it work?

Mini updates

Each ‘Tweet’ lets you write 140 characters to tell the world what you’re doing, what you’re thinking or where you are. It’s a great way to connect to key partners, stakeholders and potential funders.

2. Who should Tweet?

Empower your people!

It’s great to have an ‘organisational’ page or profile to talk about the stuff you’re doing, but Twitter often works best when individuals make individual connections. Your CEO, for example, will make different relationships posting as themselves than a marketing manager posting as the organisation. You’ll have a bigger impact if you empower key people (or even everyone!) in your organisation to have their own voice, interests and opinions. You can think about establishing clear guidelines for staff so they feel confident to Tweet as your ambassadors.

3. How do I get started?

Sign up: Sign up is really straightforward. Follow the instructions on the site, but make sure to pick a short and easy to remember user name so it doesn’t take up too many of your 140 characters in each Tweet!

Avatar: It’s always good to pick some sort of image as your ‘avatar’ - the picture which goes with your profile. You don’t want to be a ‘faceless’ organisation! It could be a picture of you, or if you’ve chosen to Tweet as your organisation, your logo. Remember, however, it’s a tiny box so your full logo may be unreadable - it’s better to use a symbol instead.

Bio: Finally, make sure you fill in your bio. It should be short and descriptive and say who you are and what your organisation does. Don’t forget to fill in the boxes for the link to your website, and your location - particularly if you’re a local organisation. This will help you make local connections.

4. What happens next?

Listen and follow: Now the fun begins! The best way to start is to listen in to what’s going on. Most people use Twitter to see a stream of posts or Tweets from other users relevant to their field of work. You can choose who’s Tweets to see by ‘following’ them. This involves finding their twitter page and clicking the follow button. Easy! Look them up on the search facility, and then follow who they follow too. You’ll soon build up a community and get the hang of how conversations work.

Partners: A good place to start is with your partners and direct competitors. You can keep an eye on what they’re doing, while striking up conversations with partners that can create online buzz around the things you’re doing together.

Hashtags: As well as people, you can also follow hashtags. These are key words or phrases beginning with a ‘#’ that people talking about a common theme, event or subject use to mark their posts. You can make up your own hashtags for campaigns or projects and get all your partners and participants to use it.

5. What should I say?

The 80/20 rule: Follow the 80/20 rule to make sure you don’t become a Twitter bore! Rather than just talking about yourself all the time, make sure that at least 80% of your tweets are interesting, humorous or useful to your followers. If you provide valuable content for them most of the time, your followers will forgive the occasional blatant self-promotion (and will even help you out by re-tweeting! Read on to find out more!)

Reply: When you write a tweet, it will appear in the Twitter feed of everyone who follows you. Why not start off by replying to Tweets you’ve found interesting? Just start your Tweet with an ‘@’ symbol before the username of the person/organisation you’re responding to - for instance @communityhowto. You can also mention someone in one of your Tweets, for instance ‘Great Tweet by @communityhowto’.

Retweet: You can ‘re-tweet’ (RT) posts you’ve found particularly interesting. This repeats that Tweet from your account, beginning RT @username, so people can see it’s a re-tweet. Re-tweeting is always appreciated as it gets a message out to an even wider audience. Remember, anything you say can also be re-tweeted, so make sure you never write anything you’re not happy for the whole wide world to see!

Direct Message: You can send people a Direct Message (DM) on Twitter, but this too isn’t entirely private. Save the confidential or controversial for the phone or email!

Case studies, crowdsourcing, live tweeting: Keep your content interesting! It’s always great to include case studies about your work, or ‘crowd source’ ideas by asking for answers to a question or a sticky problem you’re facing. You’ll be surprised how much help your followers will offer! Lots of people also do ‘live tweeting’ from an event - giving their followers the highlights from a relevant conference as they happen.

Links: Whatever you say, you have to say it in 140 characters. That means it’s always good to include links so people can find the full story elsewhere - for instance on your website. Try using a link shortening facility like bit.ly.com to make your links nice and short so they don’t take up too much space.

Pictures: A picture still is worth a thousand words, so make use of them on Twitter! You can add photos to Twitter using a service called Twitpic. Log in at www.twitpic.com and allow access to your Twitter account. You can then upload photos which have been saved to your computer and post them to your Twitter stream along with a message. If you’re using a smartphone then there are a number of free apps you can get to make it easy to post pictures. You can also email or MMS a photo to yourusername.yourpassword@mobypicture.com. See www.mobypicture.com/lovestwitter for more details.

6. How should I say it?

Be authentic, be responsive

The first rule for Twitter is to be authentic. It’s not the place for overly formal language or PR - being friendly and honest will encourage others to be friendly back. The second rule for Twitter is to be responsive. You’ve got to be in the conversation to get something back from it - if you’re not there to answer questions or give your opinion, your followers won’t ask again.

7. How do I get followers?

Get involved!

As well as following others, the idea of Twitter is to get people to follow you, too. Many people you follow will automatically follow you back. After that, it’s a case of getting out there, joining in and getting involved. The more interesting and interested you are, the more people will find out about you, see you, and follow you.

8. How do I fit it in?

Go mobile

The best way to fit Twitter into your everyday working life is to go mobile! Download the right app onto your phone and let people know what you’re doing as you do it. Another top tip is to use an interface like Hootsuite (www.Hootsuite.com) or TweetDeck (www.tweetdeck.com) - where you can look at lots of different social media feeds from one place, and even schedule your posts in advance.

9. How do I know it’s working?

Keep a track

You can use TweetGrader to work out how effective your tweets are, and TweetReach to see how far your tweet went. Klout (www.klout.com) and How Sociable (www.howsociable.com) measure your social media impact across several different channels at once, and Twenty Feet (www.twentyfeet.com) brings everything together for analysis.

Topsy (www.topsy.com) also lets you track your hashtags and creates graphs showing your impact. You can also use Bitly (www.bitly.com) to give any links you include a short and unique name, and track the click-throughs to your site with Google analytics (www.google.com).

10. How do I handle the negative stuff?

Keep an eye out, keep calm and keep talking

Be calm in the face of criticism, accept others’ opinions, and keep talking to your critics. You may never agree, but by being open, honest and transparent you can agree to disagree. Remember, you can always politely disengage with rude or abusive comments.