Twitter

AHA - Twitter ImageNext up in our Social Media 101 series is Twitter. Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that allows users to send and read short 140-character messages called “tweets.” As of the first quarter of 2016, Twitter averaged 310 million monthly active users.

If Facebook is like a coffee shop where (almost) everyone knows your name, Twitter is a busy airport pub where you are welcome to join the conversations that interest you and connect with strangers (who can often become clients, colleagues and even friends).

Depending on your organization and what you provide – Twitter can support your sales and offer timely customer service. It can provide you with an understanding of how people perceive your industry, company or a specific incident, event or activity. It can help you to showcase your expertise and subject matter knowledge and it can help you to expand and extend your network. It is a great engagement tool.

Twitter provides an excellent opportunity to join the conversations that matter to you and your organization. On Twitter, your goal should be to engage followers (real ones, not the fake bots that just up your follower count) in authentic and timely conversations and discussions. You can use Twitter to link to a blog post, make a statement on something happening in the news, share your opinion, ask questions of others, and do just about everything you would do if you had the opportunity to be in the same room with a whole lot of smart people who are relevant to your world. (Just remember that you need to be relevant to their world too for this to work.)

The best way to engage and increase your followers is to follow others who you are interested in and participate in discussions. Respond to questions and comments and showcase who you are and what you bring to the party! Twitter is like a great big cocktail party where people are interested in what you have to say.

Writing in 140 characters can take some getting used to (and Twitter is about to make it a little easier to do this), especially if you aren’t succinct. Writing less is an art and it’s worth it to be thoughtful about the craft of writing tweets. A great tweet can be retweeted (shared) by your followers and increase your reach – as well as bring more people to follow you.

Like Facebook, it’s important, to understand your social media brand and voice and have that reflected on your Twitter account. And because Twitter is fast-paced and smart, it is also crucial that you understand how important it is to think through what you post here. There are many, many examples of Twitter #fails (if you don’t know what a # (hashtag) is – we’ll explain that in an upcoming post) because someone posted something inappropriate, confidential or even inflammatory. Writing in 140 characters might seem like nothing, but think of it as writing a really short article with a readership of millions – and be sensitive to how they might perceive what you are saying.

Twitter is a hot social network for organizations and it’s important that you are on there and know what’s going on. It’s equally important that you identify what you want to generate through Twitter – and know when, why and what you want to share with the Twitterverse. It can be an exceptionally positive tool or it can be one that creates issues that drive you to spend valuable time retracting, explaining, clarifying and apologizing.

Do yourself a favour and take Twitter seriously. You wouldn’t disseminate information or opinions that reflected poorly on your organization through email, at an event, at a tradeshow or when making a presentation. Don’t do it on Twitter either. There is a great deal of power in the hands of the people on Twitter. Respect them and your brand.

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Social MediaSocial media is a challenge when it comes to both your professional and personal lives. Posting to your social media accounts offers an often very public view of your opinions, hobbies, habits and attitudes. There really isn’t any separation between personal and professional anymore.

I have read many articles on the subject and have seen a couple of speakers say that you should keep your Facebook page personal and use LinkedIn, Twitter and other accounts for more public engagement with potential clients, customers, partners or employers. Well, the reality is – that’s not easy to do. LinkedIn is pretty straightforward; it is generally focused on professional networking and business-related topics. Other sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram, aren’t so easy.

Let’s take Facebook as an example. How would you decline an existing or potential client or employer if they asked to friend you on Facebook? (And, if you haven’t experienced this, you will.) There is no easy way to decline that request. I have been immersed in the world of social media for more than 15 years – and I still haven’t found a good way to do it. That’s because turning someone away who has a connection to you does not build a good relationship. And it can look like you have something to hide.

The fact is, you can set up your privacy settings to stop some people from seeing all or some of your posts, but I know very few people who actually do this. While the person isn’t informed that you have done this, if they are paying attention, they might notice. And that doesn’t stop someone from tagging you or sharing inappropriate information and others seeing it. You have to be really on the ball and vigilant to make this work.

In working with clients, we have done social media audits that have turned up images of board members sitting beside someone smoking marijuana, senior staff drinking wine from a bottle, and several other pieces of information or photos that could damage their professional reputations. You can’t control everything and, for the most part, these kinds of things can be easily explained or put into context, but sometimes you don’t get that opportunity.

I have been on Facebook for a long time and I have friends, family, colleagues and both past and current clients as my Facebook friends. And while I do share some personal things, in the back of my mind I always ask myself – what if this ended up on the front page of a national newspaper… would I mind? We have a social media policy at AHA: We don’t post when we are sad or mad. And, for the most part, we focus on the positive. Even in a negative or serious situation, you can find something to say that is constructive.

The fact is, there is no longer a boundary between what you do in your personal and professional lives. They have blurred together. When you speak to young people in the workforce today, they expect the people who lead the organization to be transparent and authentic. More and more staffers are connected via social media networks – and often with their supervisors, managers, directors and the big cheese.

For the AHA team, we work closely with our clients and we usually have strong, positive relationships with them. Social media helps us build these relationships, as they can see who we are when we aren’t sitting at their boardroom tables. They can see who we are as real people. They are exposed to our values, our integrity and ethics in action – through example – not just from us telling them who we are. They can also see that we like to have fun, have a sense of humour, and they can learn about our hobbies and passions. For us, this is a benefit. People want to work with people they like and respect – and that’s a two-way street. When professional contacts connect with me on Facebook, I get to see who they really are too.

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http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photo-american-spy-wearing-black-suit-holding-cup-image35529905Over the last few days, there has been some noise on social media about the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) joining Twitter and Facebook. Their first tweet was: “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.”  It seems that they have a sense of humour.

Their objective – according to a statement by CIA Director John Brennan – is to “more directly engage the public and provide information on the CIA’s mission, history, and other developments.” In the statement, he also said: “We have important insights to share, and we want to make sure that unclassified information about the agency is more accessible to the American public that we serve, consistent with our national security mission.”

There were certainly some laugh-out-loud responses to the CIA’s first tweet and, in a day and age where we expect transparency from our government agencies, it seems to make sense that they would use social media. And I am sure the CIA has a budget to support this social media outreach – which is important, especially for a high profile, controversial organization such as this. At this point, their Twitter account has more than half a million followers, with Facebook at just about 40,000.

I am interested to see how this plays out. The director stated that they want to “more directly engage the public” – that is a pretty big objective for a spy organization. I think that in theory, it’s great that they are embracing social media. In reality, I think they will spend a great deal of time dealing with critics and controversy and defending their actions and their organization. I wonder what that will achieve for them in the short and longer term.

If they are going to use social media to push out information that can be found in news releases or other public statements, then I think it will be ineffective. Social media is about conversation, dialogue and discussion between people – it shouldn’t be used as a distribution channel that is one way. With half a million Twitter followers – that is a large number of people who will be paying attention to what they communicate.

At AHA, we have several high profile organizations as clients (not the CIA), and we have developed strategic communications plans that include social media. The research and strategy that goes into these plans includes understanding how and when social media could be an asset and when it might be a liability for the organization.

I think it is important to identify the risks of engaging and not engaging – and they both have risks. I spend a great deal of my professional life explaining why organizations should engage – but there are still times when the risk of engaging is higher than not engaging. If, after you have identified the risks of engaging, you find that it’s a long list – and you still believe you need to reach out – it is crucial to be properly resourced. And you need to have an issues communication plan in place. There is no doubt that the CIA will face issues online – their agency is too high profile and too controversial to avoid it. It may be that they use those issues to authentically engage and keep the American public (and the rest of the world) informed. We’ll see. As much as the online world has been around for a long time (heck, AHA has been involved in it for close to 15 years!) – it is still uncharted territory in many ways. It will be interesting to watch how this plays out.

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I have been a fan of Newark Mayor Cory Booker since a story broke last winter about Mayor Booker hearing about a dog left out in a snowstorm on a very cold night. He went to the house and took the dog. You can read more about that story and several others, where Mayor Booker went what can easily be considered above and beyond the call of duty here.

Mayor Booker is a hands-on kind of guy. He gets out and does what it takes to show his constituents that their issues matter to him. And his communications team does a good job of making sure we see and hear, through traditional media, about the things he does. However, the mayor is active (and quite funny) on Twitter, he is on Instagram and he has a Facebook account where he posts regularly.

He is currently running for the U.S. Senate and he is doing an excellent job of not crossing over and campaigning. He uses his mayor “shares” on social media for that job, and he uses his campaign social media accounts for the upcoming August Senate election.

Cory Booker is authentic and genuine. He connects with his constituents, rather than talk at them. He updates regularly. He responds – especially on Twitter, which seems to be his platform of choice. And he is human about it all. He also takes on the tough questions and the people who are clearly not fans of his. He doesn’t shy away from them. I think that earns him respect, even from those who will never vote for him.

There are very few politicians that I have seen who do such a good job of connecting with people, using social media. Cory Booker uses social media as an important tool, and it works because he sees it as a tool. He is who he is – he doesn’t pretend to be anyone else – and he is an active communicator using many avenues, including social media. He doesn’t hide behind his accounts. He uses them to showcase the work he is doing, to raise issues and concerns, to start dialogue, and to bring his citizens together when tragedy or a crisis strikes.

I realize that I am not the only one who thinks Cory Booker is an example of good social media use – PR News Online has a short piece on What PR pros can learn from Cory Booker.

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I have to admit, when Twitter first launched several years ago, I wasn’t sure whether it would have a business purpose. Now, however, I clearly see the value for some organizations – notice I say some, not all.

Are you struggling with the value of Twitter? There is a great post on Ragan.com that outlines the value and showcases a Twittermentary (Twitter documentary). If you are still wondering whether Twitter would be a worthwhile tool for your organization, this post and the Twittermentary are worth your time.

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