Help Me Learn? Tweeting for an Organization

Here at EPA, we have many Twitter feeds. Most are run automagically via RSS feeds.

I’m trying to figure out whether our main feed, @usepagov, should have a live person behind it who responds to people. I’m very concerned about the potential time demands, because EPA is involved in an enormous number of issues that affect all Americans. I can easily imagine it ballooning out of control.

On the other hand, in every other social media experiment at EPA, if there’s been a problem with the level of citizen engagement, it’s been too little, not too much. So I’m tempted to try it, having one of my team members keep track and develop responses.

But first, I figured I’d ask my colleagues: here in my normal blog, on GovLoop, and on Twitter.

So: if you represent your organization (gov’t agency, private company, non-profit, whatever) on Twitter, how much time does it take? How many questions do you get? Do you find you’re able to answer them, or do you farm them out? Have you set up a specific set of people to expect to get your queries, or is it ad hoc?

Any tips or advice or info you could share would be terrific.



6 Responses to “Help Me Learn? Tweeting for an Organization”

  1. 1 Mike Mahaffie May 27, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    To what can we attribute this silence? Is it the case that most of us are tweeting for ourselves and not yet for our agencies? Have you had any better reaction/response on twitter?

    I do not (yet?) tweet for my agency (State of DE, OMB), but I do tweet for the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC), a national organization. we mostly use twitter, so far, to re-enforce blog posts and to retweet things of interest. I have had a few questions for that twitter account, but not much.

    I’ll be following this discussion, though, to see what other ideas are out there.

  2. 2 Ari Herzog May 27, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Notable of you to crowdsource for ideas, Jeffrey, but may I suggest you’re asking the wrong people?

    Create a recurring event via to send the same message, or a series of messages, every 12 hours or so for so many days. Point people to a page. In that repeating tweet, ask your readers–those who follow the account–what you’re asking us.

    It’s counterproductive to ask anyone else.

  3. 3 Jeffrey May 27, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    Ari, I’m not really asking whether people who follow @usepagov would appreciate having a human behind it. I assume the answer is yes (and, indeed, since I tweeted I was going to try it, several have already said so).

    What I’m asking is how much time it takes for people who already personify an org’s tweets and how they handle it. I’m getting some great responses in all three places I asked.

    But the links you provided are great! I’ll definitey use the poll thing at some point.

  4. 4 John Able May 27, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    As a PAO on the Coronado National Forest, I’ve been dabbling with Twitter for wildfire information — about 100 Tweets over the last three weeks, (which is not really a big enough sample to draw many conclusions, but that’s not stopping me).

    I composed every tweet. Of that 100 tweets, I received only one reply. I attribute this lack of response to the fact that Twitter was a new way to communicate, one that will take a while to institutionalize, and one that most people still haven’t mastered. In particular, many people still don’t know how to reply or direct message.

    That said, the public learning curve with this medium will be fast. The next time we use it for fire, I expect many more people will be familiar with Twitter and the experience will be much more conversational, which, for me, is the whole point.

    Of course, wildfire information is news, so using Twitter for this purpose will vary from more mundane government purposes.

    To answer your question, I believe Twitter will eventually save time. Initially, this will not be the case because we will use all of our existing communications PLUS Twitter. But once Twitter becomes routine for everyone in the world — which, at the current rate of spread, could happen by next Tuesday — I think tweets will substantially replace emails and phone calls from the public, and I believe it will also replace press releases as we currently know them. In addition, placing a Twitter feed on a web page may also reduce web updates — especially if the number of spaces in a tweet is increased, which is rumored to be in the works.

    So, while we might expect a bump in workload during these early days of using Twitter, it will make our future communications more efficient and more effective. If it doesn’t, we’ll all stop using it.

  5. 5 Alex, aka SocialButterfly May 28, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Hey Jeffrey,

    I’m shooting you over an email to help address this question. It’s a good one! =)

  6. 6 Will May 28, 2009 at 11:49 am

    I tweet as @libdems and try to give it some of my personality. It has to portray a good image of the political party, but maintain a sense of humour (as long as it’s inoffensive) is part of showing that we’re real people.

    Interacting can take time but is worth it. I do get asked questions I can’t answer and usually pass these on to the departments who can feed me answers back. That can be slower than twitter is used to, but that’s preferable to me trying to answer and getting it wrong.

    I believe in being open about who’s running the account and naming them in the biog.

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