First written May ’09, updated (slightly) April ’11.

Although listening is the most important way of using Twitter for a brand or organisation, you’ll want to do some actual tweeting too — or it’s not a conversation. Here are some generic tips on how this can work well, based on my work with a number of organisations. Again, I’ll assume that you’ve got a basic idea what Twitter is and got an account. I’ll use the example of a theatre venue here, as it’s something I’ve been thinking about, but the principles should be applicable across organisations.

What to tweet

Twitter is all about adding value to other people – on a personal level you get this value back in kind (your questions answered, or being entertained), for a business you would hope that it’s a loss leader for sales (like making the seats in your venue nicer than the absolute basic). In order to make valuable and useful tweets it’s good to think about the “value” of each tweet that the organisation makes — they should be (at least one of):

  • Interesting : eg. an exciting new booking for the venue (or new product, whatever)
  • Entertaining (or nicely personal) : eg. something interesting backstage (This tweet of mine from the Warwick Arts Centre of Rapunzel’s hair would be a good example) – this is mostly where the personality of the tweeters can come through*
  • Informative: eg. a road closure nearby (this might not affect just visitors, but useful locally), cancellations, additional dates to sold out shows…
  • Helpful: mainly this is responding to queries either asked directly to @yourname or that we can see through the search feeds.

*The “entertaining” tweets are very attached to people’s personalities — brands don’t have personalities, but the tweeters do. It can depend on the size or your organisation, and the number of people tweeting from it as to how you can best get the personality out.

Personality matters, how to get it through

For a very small organisation, one person bands especially, showing the personality can be quite easy to do — if one person is doing all the tweeting it will happen quite naturally. But if one person is responsible for Twitter in a larger organisation, what happens then they are on holiday or at weekends? If your Twitter contacts get used to a certain level of updates or response, a dead period can break trust — people will drift off and get information elsewhere. Because of this it’s important to share out the responsibility of Twitter (both monitoring and responding), there are a number of different strategies.

One, employed to good effect by Channel Four News (@channel4news) is to decide on an organisational tone of voice — theirs is lightly conspiratorial, and friendly — but then not say at all who is actually tweeting. I would suspect that one of the broadcast assistants is put “on Twitter duty” each day. This is useful for a very well know organisation, but it is a barrier to conversation — Channel Four News don’t have to work hard to build contacts or answer difficult customers (or deliver information), they are there to create a friendly atmosphere and to extend the culture/community around the programmes, they don’t need to build personal relationships.

Another way of letting the personality though is to “sign” some of the tweets — this works well for the asides, the entertaining nonsense that builds networks. By signing the tweets I mean tweeting messages that are linked to real people — you could do this my leaving a name/initials after a circumflex at the end of the tweet (“just seen something odd ^jon”) or better still link the organisation’s tweets to the Twitters of individual people one their own accounts.  This can be done technically (by services like GroupTweet or ConnectTweet, or by bespoke filters — I’ve used Yahoo Pipes and Twitterfeed for this purpose) and can work really well when people are already using Twitter for themselves.

An example of a use of GroupTweet is the Twitter stream of my radio show The Big Paws (@thebigpaws)  — we use normal (“unsigned”) tweets for information,  and GroupTweet fed direct messages from our own accounts for “asides”. GroupTweet has a slight technical issue in that you can’t follow people outside the organisation with the account (as it works by retweeting direct messages), ConnectTweet uses #hashtags, which solves that but does leave brand tweets also in the originators account.

Whichever method you choose it’s still up to all tweeters to understand what’s appropriate to say on behalf of the brand or organisation — but this is no different to them speaking in public offline, and you trust them to do that, right? Spamming isn’t a good idea, everyone must understand that.

Tweeting tips

Here are a few tips of how to structure tweets, what to include and a few common pitfalls to be aware of:

  • When tweeting a link (to a new blog post, or anything else on your site or not) tweet the direct link to the actual content – don’t just tweet a link to your website and expect people to find it (use a URL shortener like with stats if you’re interested in how many people click on it).
  • Watch how often you tweet links to your content — most people are capable of finding your blog posts without twittered links. Don’t automatically set links to be tweeted as new posts are posted, or at least set up a separate Twitter account for that and mark it clearly as a feed of your new posts. If you have a new blog post that you’re really excited about and want to tweet about, communicate that excitement in the tweet.
  • Asking for a ReTweet is a little desparate, make interesting content and people will want to pass it on — be very careful about asking for ReTweets, campaigns are a possible use, but your latest blog post isn’t.
  • Think about when to tweet, if you want to generate a fun discussion (or even a more weighty one) then think about when your network is most partial to that sort of thing. Friday afternoons are good for fun, Monday mornings, not so much — although your network might display different characteristics.

When and how often to tweet

This is really the same question; each tweet exists separately and due to the ambient and transient nature of how people read Twitter there isn’t really a too much or a wrong time — as long a each tweet is adding something to the people who read it. The tweeter has to ask themselves “why should anyone care about this?” — friends will put up with things from you that people you’re hoping to communicate with as a brand won’t. Tweet useful and interesting stuff and people will want to engage, don’t and they won’t.

As ever any questions, improvements or suggestions are welcome — these can only be very broad tips because each organisation is different, but I hope they’re useful. I’m very happy to talk to you about specific cases (and I’m @bounder btw).

22 Responses

  1. One thing that I am beginning to find a little annoying is the volume of tweets that some organisations can produce if they’re being produced every time a new item is added to the website, for example. My thoughts around this would be either to introduce a delay and gradually tweet the new additions, rather than a mass tweet, or perhaps another approach would be to generate a smull URL to point to a summary page?

  2. I actually meant to post ‘a small URL’, e.g. TinyURL, rather than smull … right, Firefox spellcheck add-on required.

  3. Cheers Jon, this is useful stuff.

    Here’s an interesting one – I’ve been doing a bit of listening myself following your advice.

    The question that this brings up is responding. Clearly if someone was mouthing off then keep out of it, but if someone’s looking for information which you could provide – is it generally seen as rude and scary to @ in with a hyperlink and answer?

  4. Good question, Dunc. I won’t speak generally, but a simple rule of thumb for me is to think what you’d do personally. I think we can guage when our help is useful and it should be no diferent for an organisation trying to engage. I’d be interested in other thoughts tho’

  5. This is a great start for companies thinking about twitter technique. The comment about automatically cross-posting has really got me thinking.

    I certainly take your point, but I wonder at what volume this applies?

    We update our blog 4-5 times per week, so blog content accounts for about 1 out of a dozen daily tweets.

    Do you feel that this situation would still warrant moving blog cross-posts to a separate twitter account?

  6. @Hannah I come down quite strongly on the idea that automatically doing stuff in conversational media is a bit odd — it’s almost like jarringly including an advert (however related) into a natural chat with a mate.

    It’s certainly not quite as cut and dried as that, but different people have different thresholds for how much machine conversation they will put up with. But, do you want people to have to “put up” with stuff — if you only have 4 blog posts a week then surely you thing they’re all good stuff? Good enough to hand-write something extra/different/interesting to point twitter to it?

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