Note: Since the Twitter platform is always evolving, so are our best practices for using it. We welcome feedback and suggestions to keep processes current and up-to-date.
What is Twitter and Why Should I Use It?
Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that enables users to send and read other users' short messages called tweets. Tweets contain only text and links (no images), and can only be up to 140 characters. An estimated 190 million people use Twitter.
We should use Twitter because:
- Twitter is a quickly growing online platform and a great way to spread the Department's message.
- Twitter allows users to "retweet" or repeat others' messages to their own followers. When followers retweet our message to their followers, our message has the potential to spread far beyond our own followers.
- Twitter is easy to use on mobile devices, giving us a way to engage people who aren't using the web.
Rules of engagement: Dos and Don'ts
- Cover only one point and provide only one link per tweet.
- Have some fun and be personable with phrasing. The 140-character limit forces us to be pithy, clear and catchy, but always use good taste. If in doubt whether your words may cross the line, ask a colleague for a second opinion.
- When possible, try to stay at least 10-20 characters below the 140-character limit. This helps to facilitate retweeting, which when done manually requires additonal characters beyond the original tweet (see the section on retweeting below). Think "120 is the new 140."
- Don't procrastinate about whether to tweet. Timeliness matters.
- Respond to questions, but stick to your area of expertise. People might ask you questions you can't answer; refer them to someone who can.
- Respond to complaints if you can help someone, but avoid arguing with people trying to bait you.
- Reply and retweet. People using Twitter will respect you for fully engaging in the medium. See the sections below on replying and retweeting for guidelines.
- Phrase questions so that they are open ended. Ask for thoughts or ideas.
- Link to more in-depth content, such as a webpage, podcast, and news release.
- Use a URL shortener to keep the character length down on links. Use GSA's http://go.usa.gov shortener for .gov links and you can use many other options, like http://bit.ly/, for links to non-government websites.
- Tag topics of ongoing interest using a hashtag to allow for easy searching (e.g., #solar). Use the same hashtag on all tweets related to specific outreach campaigns.
- Check your spelling. You can't correct errors. You may be able to delete a post, but it will often still appear in others' searches. Plus, if someone retweets your tweet before you delete it, it will live on indefinitely.
- You may find it useful to start your own personal Twitter account so you can experiment and become more accustomed to using the platform.
- Don't tweet about things you wouldn't talk about under normal circumstances. If you don't want to see it on the front page of the newspaper, don't tweet it
- Don't lobby, promote political viewpoints, or endorse commercial products.
- Don't argue, push personal opinions, or get into long-running debates.
- Don't let your account languish. You should update your Twitter account multiple times a week -- Most of the best Twitter accounts have excellent new tweets throughout each day.
Following other accounts
- Follow the Department of Energy's main account, @energy.
- Establish criteria for what types of accounts you will follow. You should follow a number of other Department of Energy accounts and relevant accounts from other agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. Beyond that, you should be selective in whom you choose to follow based on the content and value they provide. Document your criteria for following accounts to avoid charges of favoritism or endorsement.
Retweeting means to repost someone else's tweet to your followers. There are two ways to retweet: you can retweet manually or by using Twitter's new retweeting function. Importantly, retweeting always includes giving the original author credit for their tweet.
- To retweet manually, copy and paste someone else's tweet into your Twitter update box, type RT @ and their username before their message, and then hit the "Tweet" button to publish it. For example: RT @whitehouse: Energy Secretary Steven Chu is introduced to @TheOnion http://ow.ly/38TA2
- To retweet using the new Twitter retweet function, simply press the "retweet" button below the post you want to retweet, and that tweet will be shown to your followers, along with the information that you were the one who retweeted it.
- If the retweet exceeds the 140-character limit, it's okay to slightly shorten the original tweet -- providing you don't change its intended meaning in any way. If you feel you've edited their tweet significantly (although still without changing any intended meaning) you could use the letters "MT," meaning modified tweet, in place of "RT."
- If enough characters are available, you may include a short comment about the retweet by adding a comment before the RT or adding a comment after a slash. For example: Thank you! RT @Nationallab: Loved your report today or RT @Nationallab: Check out these test results URL / Especially note the data around cities!
It's good form to reply to people who message you on Twitter. Some conversations on Twitter are private and some are public. You can find private messages under the "direct messages" tab. You can send private replies to specific users via the "direct message" feature. You should send direct messages when sharing sensitive information like email addresses or phone numbers, or to follow-up on a private discussion.
Most conversations on Twitter are public. For a public reply (which will show up on your public Twitter wall) begin your tweet with the @ sign and the account name you're replying to. For example: "@CleanFishInc Great work on that report."
Of note, only people following both of your accounts will see your reply to other users in their feed. So a tweet such as: "@John, I like your shirt"will only show up for people following both you and John.
If you want more people to see it, add something before the @username in your response, for example: "Hey @John, I like your shirt" and then that tweet will show up both on your wall and into the feeds of all the people who follow you. Use your best judgment as to whether your response will make sense to people not following the whole conversation in their feeds.
Promoting and monitoring
- Promote your Twitter account by including "Follow us on Twitter" links on your websites, your e-mail signature, and when speaking in public.
- Monitor mentions of your Twitter account via the "@(account name)" feature on your Twitter home page. Reply as appropriate.
- Use free services like TweetReach.com to see how your tweet traveled and how many others retweeted it.