In a recent post, we discussed the value of municipalities using Twitter to communicate with their residents, particularly about events or construction projects. Here are some tips and tools for the first phase of your strategy: Building your municipality’s Twitter following.
1. Tell Everyone in the ‘Twittersphere’ Why they should follow you – Use your Twitter name or ‘handle’ and the 160 character description on your profile page to identify who might want to follow you and what you will offer them. If you want constituents to follow, skip the “nice to know” facts about your city or project’s accolades. Tell them instead how you will help them, such as giving them timely snow removal or like the Hanlan Water Project, offer road access updates to make their day easier.
2. Use Specifics, Places and Other Proper Nouns in Your Twitter Profile – Identify your municipality in the designated profile space but if your project has a significant impact on specific towns, suburbs or neighbourhoods, name them as well to make it easy for your audience to find you. You can even use specifics to identify your audience, such as: “We give commuters road updates before they start their morning drive.”
3. Humanize Your Municipality, Project or Brand – Try to write in conversation style, ideally in the second person, using an active voice. Make it personal to the reader by using words like ‘you’ and ‘your’ and entice them by using words that promise value, such as: help, check out and how to. You can further ‘humanize’ your brand by featuring the faces and titles of your Twitter team, in the same manner as TD Canada Trust has done. With this format, you can manage messages and maintain continuity by having each writer end their tweets with their initials, even if you only have a couple of staff on your Twitter team.
4. Follow Relevant People Not Just Organizations – One of the easiest ways to gain a follower is to follow them. Start by following other government/public sector, media outlets and local organizations’ names (or ‘Twitter handles’ as they are called) but don’t stop there. Seek and follow people who might be interested in what you offer, such as elected officials who want to keep constituents informed, as well as, journalists, traffic reporters, prominent local leaders or even engaged citizens without a formal community role. Before you follow someone, ensure they have a photo on their profile (not the default ‘egg’), a plausible description and a track record of tweets that are ‘above board,’ even if they’re not all relevant to your topic. You can also use third-party free tools, such as Twellow to find relevant people to follow.
5. Find and Follow Specific Stakeholders … and Those Who They Follow – As all Twitter names are unique, specific individual’s ‘Twitter handles’ are sometimes tough to find. Start by selecting handles from the Who to Follow option in the left column of your Twitter page. To find a specific stakeholder (if they’re on Twitter), enter their name, followed by ‘+ Twitter’ in Google’s search engine field. Once you find a particularly relevant stakeholder, check who they follow, as many may also be relevant to your municipality, department or project – and then follow them too. To do this, click the Following number and text below their profile or click their Lists (in the top left corner of the profile page) and then ‘Follow’ any Twitter handles that might be relevant to you.
6. Issue Tweets When Your Community is Most Active – Try to issue tweets when your audience is most likely to read them. Research conflicts on the best times to send tweets. Some studies suggest that the best time is from 8 to 9 am, noon to 2 pm or early evening from 4 to 6 pm but this varies with the audience and their interests. To help learn when your followers are on Twitter, try using a tool called Followerwonk.
Developing strategies, tips and training to help municipalities communicate through Twitter and other social media channels, along with traditional ways, is a service we offer. Contact us, if you would like to learn how we can help you.
Leslie Hetherington is Communications Director at Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited. She is an award-winning, Accredited PR Practitioner (APR) and a past president of the Toronto chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. Leslie’s project experience includes integrated communications planning and implementation through traditional and online channels for diverse mandates, from managing reputations to stimulating economic development in Canada’s North. Skills include stakeholder and media relations, social media marketing, website development, event management and copy writing.