twitter best practices

This social network revolves around short messages (140 characters or less) where users often find themselves answering the questions “what are you doing” or “what are you thinking?.”

Twitter users tend to be older than Facebook users. Twitter content varies from the cliche posting of what someone had for lunch to back channel conversation at events or corporations using Twitter to engage their stakeholders. Currently Twitter is a free service where organizations do not have to pay for their presence in the network, however some media coverage of the service has hinted that organizations may be charged for their Twitter profiles.

The short messages that one writes on Twitter is often called  “tweet.” Users set up an account and then “follow” other users. When other users follow you they are called “followers.” It is common practice for users to “re-tweet” information they see posted by other people. This is typically shown as RT @username (that being the username of the original person who tweeted the information) or via @username. The community adheres to this method because it shows deference to the person who originally found or reported the message in the first place. When one wants to target a message to a particular user, one will put @username (that being the username of the targeted person) and these replies, or @s as they are called, will show up in the user’s sidebar.

It is best for organizations to set up short and obvious (minimize inter-organizational acronyms) Twitter usernames. The username a company chooses should be short because it is a goal that the information tweeted by the company will be so interesting that others on the network will want to repeat that information and post it themselves. Therefore, to conform to the community standards, the re-tweeted information will likely include @username for the company. It is considered best practices for the username to be obvious because other people not following the company may see the company’s username mentioned around Twitter. If the company’s username makes sense then those unfamiliar with the company’s account can still ascertain that the account is related to the company. If the most obvious username for your company is taken and it appears that someone is cybersquating (no real reason for the person to have @DeltaAirlines as the username other than Delta Airlines!) then the company can contact Twitter to have the username released back to the company.

Twitter now offers “verified account” services as well, typically used by celebrities (real ones, not Internet-made ones), which means that when you see a tweet by @Oprah it really is the Oprah.

Tweets posted on the company Twitter account should attempt to stay well under the 140 character limit. One should attempt this so that if the company’s tweet is re-tweeted and posted by another user then there is enough space to include “RT @username” (that being the company’s username) with the entire message.

When an official company account is created, it should be written from a human voice and transparent as to who is writing the tweets. However, the account should not become so human that it appears to be the personal Twitter account of the person writing the messages.

The Twitter avatar should be a company logo or picture that allows other users to easily understand what the company is about (note that most avatars are seen as small squares so the picture should be cropped tightly). The company account should not be a photo of the person writing the tweets (that person can have his/her photo on his/her own personal Twitter account).

Others have suggested that to encourage re-tweeting (the viral spread of your message), you should:

  • Compose message in as few characters as possible, to allow room for re-tweeting
  • Ensure message is simple, include link (use URL shortener to track clicks) for additional information
  • Ask people to RT (re-tweet) the message
  • Say please when asking to re-tweet
  • Thank people (either publically or privately through DM) when they RT your message

Messages that typically get retweeted are those that contain: breaking news, interesting facts or information, lists of things, information about Twitter (since you all have that in common with your followers), links to interesting stories/resources.

That said, I encourage people not to use their company’s Twitter account to talk about social media if their company – other than participating in it – has nothing to do with social media. I don’t want to see tweets about advances or advice in social media posted on @HomeDepot. I want to know what cool and neat things Home Depot is doing or get home improvement advice 140 charaters at time. The key here is that the medium should not be your message – your message is your message. You wouldn’t pay to run a television commercial about how great TV is so why would you tweet about social media (unless of course it is related to your message, industry, product, etc.)

If a company makes the decision to get involved in Twitter (run an account), it is critical that the company engage & contribute to the conversation in that network.

A company can certainly tweet about news related to the company, point out a picture of the day or a story about the company/company issues – however this must not be the sole content. The company, if it selects to use Twitter must actively monitor Twitter to find opportunities to really connect with other users. The company should not only begin conversations (such as @flynavy‘s question of the week where followers are asked to name favorite aviator, aircraft type or naval aviation movie) but jump in where appropriate (responding to those talking about company/company issues).

Tweets should be human. Tweets should be fun. Think of this as an opportunity to really get to know your stakeholders and talk to them.

Tweets should not metacommunicate about the process of engaging social media. Don’t tweet messages like “I’m new to Twitter what should I do?” Do your homework. Know the community before you dive in so you know what you should do. Certainly take advice when offered from your stakeholders, but don’t try to shine a spotlight on the fact that you are in the spaces so you deserve a ribbon. Instead just get in there, do a great job & the recognition for being a positive case study will come.

It is important to follow people related to the company’s issues. Before you begin following people, ensure the bio statement is completed, there is a good avatar & there are several interesting tweets posted. It is suggested to have approximately 20 interesting tweets before you begin following people. At that point, go around and find 10 people to follow (if they are to follow you back they want to see what you’re about so don’t start following people if you don’t have any tweets up). Do not add a large number of followers all at one time. The rule of thumb suggested is for every 20 tweets you do, you can add 10 more followers.

Remember your Twitter avatar represents your brand. Many suggest that once you as a company pick an avatar you stick with it. Don’t change it with every new week because people won’t be able to keep up that you are you. If you want to feature new imagry, instead change the background picture on your Twitter page (not your avatar). Then you can let folks know that you changed it & direct them to actually visit your page to see the new image.

The more interesting tweets you post, the more likely someone is to retweet (RT) what you say – which will open up a new set of prospective followers.

If you are an open company account you should always follow “real” people or related organizations that follow you. It is okay to not follow tweeters who look like spam. It is also okay to have people follow you & you not follow back — but what is the point of that? Also, note if you’re not following someone back then that person can’t direct message (DM) you.

Make sure the account is open, not locked or private. This means that everyone can see it. If you update it often and link appropriately, you can use it as a search engine optimization tool for your own Web site.

Do not set up auto-direct messages (DMs), as many people consider them spam. You do not have to reply to every single tweet targeted to you or that mentions you – though you are encouraged to get involved in the conversation when it warrents.

When hosting a Twitter account for the company, try to tweet at least once a day. If possible use it more often.

Ensure you check the @replies tab daily to see what messages have discussed you or been directed at you.

There may be times when you want to “pitch,” for lack of a better word, someone on Twitter. Best practices to mastering a pitch in 140 characters or less include:

  • Pitch in as few characters as possible (well under 140 limit) in the event your pitch is re-tweeted (RT)
  • Build a relationship first, before the pitch
  • Individualize pitches, don’t send the same thing to an entire group of people
  • Don’t post all your pitches right in a row — when the person you’ve pitched comes to check out your Twitter feed it shouldn’t be filled with pitches like they just received
  • Avoid buzzwords or acronyms

The following sites provide free, easy tools that can be used for monitoring Twitter conversation:

  • Twazzup – like Twitter search but better in that it shows keywords related to your initial keyword search & most popular tweets related to KW
  • TweetGrid – Twitter Search dashboard that updates in real time.
  • Trendistic – charts conversational activity on Twitter for a keyword.
  • Twilert – advanced Twitter search features (all/any/none of these words, by hashtag, sender, receiver, geography and ATTITUDE) , so you can get alerts of all the people having conversation about a given topic and respond to them.
  • Social Rank (may not work) – “grades” the specific search term, provides data on how often that term is tweeted and computer-assisted tone analysis (be careful with the tone analysis because it is subject to false interpretations).

When posting links to Twitter, you should always use a URL shortener like because it will track how many times the messages has been re-tweeted by other sources, number of click throughs and general region information about people who clicked on the link. These metrics assist in providing information about which content is most popular and who is interested in your tweets.

Eric T. Peterson classifies meaningful tweets — those worth monitoring and therefore measuring — into 4 categories:

  • References to other people (defined by the use of “@” followed by text)
  • Links to URLs you can visit (defined by the use of “http://” followed by text)
  • Hashtags you can explore and participate with (defined by the use of “#” followed by text)
  • Retweets of other people, passing along information (defined by the use of “rt”, “r/t/”, “retweet” or “via”)

Using the monitoring methods outlined above, one can classify and analyze all of the tweets discovered in the ongoing monitoring process. A basic outline of items to record for each tweet found in the monitoring process could be:

1. Name of person who posted the tweet
2. Date and time of tweet
3. Peterson tweet typology category: reference, URL, hashtag, RT (note one tweet may fall into several categories)
4. Issue — company conducting the tweet analysis should come up with a list of 10 overall issues (note that keywords for monitoring/searching should correlate with this list as well)
5. Did the item mention a company/company product? (if so, which one)
6. Did the item link to a company/company product? (if so, what link)
7. Did the item mention the company Twitter account
8. Did the item interact (carry on conversation) with the company Twitter account
9. Circulation – number of followers that person who posted the tweet has
10. URL shortener will show how many people clicked through on the link you posted in your tweet & also provide general location information (what country the click through occurred in)

This method of individually analyzing each tweet then reviewing the data in the aggregate is important because it helps identify elements that lead to viral messages. Perhaps a single user (be it an official company twitter account or personal/unaffiliated account) is beginning a conversation — through this method of evaluation you can identify that influence. Perhaps a certain topic is trending at great interest — this method can reveal that. Perhaps a specific piece of Web content (URL) is being linked to — this can help identify that trend as well.

Other metrics dealing with Twitter involve measuring the success of the company Twitter account. One can keep weekly totals of:

  • Number of new followers
  • Number of people who stopped following
  • Number of RTs of company Twitter information by other Twitter users
  • Number of total click throughs on shortened links

Note: I’m not breaking any ground with this post, I’m just doing yeoman’s work bringing all this info together in one place for you. This post was written after scouring the Web for the best in tips so if you want to call out a source, suggest a link or add a best practice please feel free to share the goods in the comments!

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