JULY 27, 2012

Three tips for Governments wanting to engage with their followers on Twitter

After the launch of Burson-Marsteller’s Twiplomacy study, the head of the Croatian Government’s online communication department tweeted: “Great job @Twiplomacy! Any advice on @VladaRH communication on Twitter?”

How to put a government leader’s Twitter strategy in 140 characters? My reply: “Be personal, be conversational and engage your followers“. The digital media team of the government in Zagreb is already doing a pretty good job.

Personal

How can an institutional account be personal? Under Gordon Brown’s administration the @DowningStreet account was run by a digital communications officer who gave very personal insights into the daily activities of N°10, including this excuse to a follower: “Sorry, sorry and sorry again. My brain is frazzled”. Without going to these extremes, it is a good idea to personalize the account by putting the face of the office holder or his entire government on the Twitter background as well as the names of the digital team managing the account in the Twitter profile. So far no government has publically identified its digital scribes.

Conversational

Government communications on Twitter must be conversational. Do not use the Twitter channel as a news feed, automatically broadcasting updates from the official website or worse, the official Facebook page. Don’t transform a lengthy press release, communiqué or announcement into 140 characters and broadcast it to your followers. Provide value and give perspective about these decisions in 140 characters. Always ask yourself why does this matter to our followers and how will it affect their lives? As a rule of thumb, ask yourself: would I share this with my friends on Facebook? If the answer is no, then don’t broadcast it to your followers either.

Engage

Engage your followers, by asking questions and seeking advice on specific issues. Some leaders such as Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak organize quizzes and sweepstakes giving away T-shirts as a prize. Organize monthly or weekly half-hour Twitter chats with the office holder. The White House, the German government spokesperson and Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati regularly sit down to reply to questions from their followers. Physical meet ups are a great way to connect with your audience as shown by Barack Obama who invited four lucky followers to have dinner with him; Malaysia’s Prime Minister who met his 500,000th followers for breakfast and the Croatian government who invited 50 followers for a government tweet-up. The problem is that it might leave many followers disappointed for not having been chosen.

There are limits to public Twitter chats with world leaders. Barack Obama’s biggest problem is that he can hardly have a meaningful dialogue with 17 million followers. It is physically impossible to reply to every @reply or acknowledge every @mention when you are mentioned on Twitter every five seconds. However there a ways to channel the discussion and let your followers decide in a vote which question to put to your leader.

And finally, regularly survey your followers what they want to hear from you. You will be surprised by their answers.

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