Twitter 101

This is an article I wrote for our Newsletter. It might be of wider interest – substitute “CRC” for your organisation. (Original here

Establishing a Twitter presence without devoting your life to it

Recent Twitter convert, Tony Peacock, writes on getting started in social media

With over 200 million tweets a day now flying around the world, there’s no doubt that every Cooperative Research Centre and similar organisation should join the fray. Some people will of course react that, with 200 million tweets a day, that’s a good reason (or 200 million good reasons) to stay away.

There are a few scary stories of people tweeting inappropriate information. There are certainly people that waste time on Twitter. But there is no doubt that many, many people are now using Twitter as a major source of their information. No organisation like a CRC can afford to ignore a source of customers, end-users, triallers or stakeholders.

It can be daunting to get a decent Twitter stream going. It’s free and easy to start a Twitter account but it’s harder to keep an engaging stream going forward. If you have very strict protocols for approving communications with the public, then you probably need to address those first. The person operating the Twitter account needs to have something to say and the freedom to say it. Some companies have stuffed it up – McDonalds and Qantas have had Twitter disasters in recent times. But the Australian Electoral Commission had a very successful Twitter campaign leading up to the last census and CSIRO has got the balance right between interest and information.

Assuming readers here have a relatively low level of knowledge about Twitter, there are a few basics to spell out. You “follow” a range of people or organisations who “tweet” information. The quantity of the information is limited – Twitter doesn’t allow messages more than 140 characters but you can include links to interesting information. The quality of the information varies enormously. Research just out indicates roughly one third of Tweets contain useful stuff; one third are middling and one third are useless. The trick is to follow those people that are giving a higher share of useful information.

The same research shows most people will put up with some useless information in order to capture the gems. Much the same as a conversation, we don’t expect to get great stuff all the the time. We don’t even mind self-promotion, as long as we get a benefit. The “benefits” we value most from Tweets are, firstly, information and secondly, a laugh. What we don’t like are boring Tweets, ones that are just maintaining a presence or are a conversation between other people or ones about where someone is or what they are doing.

So we like to receive information we can use, we like to have a laugh, but we don’t care if someone’s at the gym or just run 10km (but we’ll put up with them telling us that if they provide the first two more often than the last mentioned). Others make up for the inability to include more than 140 characters by tweeting often. In some cases really often. You can “unfollow” if the frequency or quality of tweets is not to your liking. As you get more used to Twitter, you can add people to various lists and “mute” them in your home stream.

For the CRC Association (@crcassoc), I use Buffer so that my Tweets come out over the course of the day. Basically, that means I look at our media hits overnight and I Tweet these, if I think others would like to see them. So I’m entering about 5-15 Tweets at once. Using Buffer means they don’t all spew out at 9am. I follow all the CRCs and will “retweet” their interesting stuff into my Buffer, as well as articles or things I think the CRC Community would appreciate. If things come up during the day, I can post these immediately.

I’m using SocialBro to determine the best times to send my Tweets. I’m assuming my followers are like me and don’t trawl back to find my old Tweets. So I’ll repeat some information (like the opening of the Australian Collaborative Innovation Awards) quite a bit so I hope I get to people when they want to hear and are in a position to act. This is the major advantage of Twitter over traditional media in my view – you are more likely to inform, remind or reinforce some information at a time someone is ready to act. Note that Twitter doesn’t allow you to constantly repeat the same thing, so try and avoid bombardment of followers with the same marketing message.

These two tools allow me to maintain a reasonably strong Twitter presence for the CRC Association without spending ages doing so. The levels of sophistication grows enormously from here. By using the hashtag (#) system, you can find people with similar interests and there are regular excellent chat groups like #agchatoz and some in rural mental health that are particularly useful. During an event, people can contribute to the conversation by using the hashtag system – so heckling at the cricket, for example, can now be heard across the world instantly. Others in the CRC Community are much better placed than me to discuss how to further improve your Twitter experience, and I might ask one of them to write a furture article. For now, my message is to have a serious look if your CRC is not yet Tweeting.

(The research refered to was Who Gives A Tweet? Evaluating Microblog Content Value by Paul André, Michael S. Bernstein and Kurt Luther. My reference is Author copy CSCW’12, February 11–15, 2012, Seattle, Washington but it should be easy to find).