A couple of weeks ago I participated on a panel with our CDC colleagues Ann Aiken and Jessica Schindelar about Twitter monitoring, evaluation, and engagement at the CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media – providing different definitions of it and how we at HIV.gov work to engage our Twitter followers (and here are the slides).
When it comes to defining “Twitter engagement” there isn’t just one definition. There are many websites and software programs that evaluate “engagement” on Twitter such as Klout, Twitalyzer, Tweet Grade, Tweetlevel, and many others. Some sites look at how often your tweets are retweeted, others include how many times you are referenced, or how actively you participate within your community of followers. One that resonated with us was Jeremiah Owyang definition: “the level of authentic involvement, intensity, contribution, and ownership.”
While there isn’t consensus about the definition of Twitter engagement, we know that Twitter is a tool that allows you to connect with your audiences, whether it be through sharing information, retweeting, or participating in a dialogue. Certain activities, such as the recent National HIV Testing Day Twitter Town Hall, evolve over time.
We’ve had a steady increase in HIV.gov Twitter followers, retweets and mentions since we started tweeting more than two years ago. In order to create and maintain our activities, we’ve integrated Twitter into our overall communications plan (PDF 574 KB). I asked members of the HIV.gov team for their advice about using Twitter to engage with our audiences. As I said during my presentation, “It takes a team flock”. Here’s what the flock had to say:
- Be consistent. To engage on Twitter, it is important that you consistently tweet, retweet, listen, and learn. At HIV.gov we have made a commitment to tweet on a daily basis. We have systems in place to help keep us on track, such as our weekly internal team Twitter reports about how many new followers we have, what we tweeted, what was retweeted, and if possible, suggested tweets for the following week. We always try to anticipate what is coming in the week ahead. Clearly things happen that we can’t anticipate, but our weekly reports and projections are things we do to make sure that we are consistent. Make sure you allocate the necessary human resources to sustain a consistent level of activity, including tweets, retweets and responses. Twitter listening tools such as TweetDeck and HootSuite are also useful for managing tweets and monitoring who we follow.
- Be timely and relevant. We’re a Federal portal for HIV/AIDS information and we know our audiences look to us for timely and relevant information. Early in the development of our Twitter strategy, we defined what topics we would tweet about, based on the information needs of our target audiences. We also assess what is being retweeted as one way to understand the information needs of our target audiences.
- Make it personal. With over 40,000 Twitter followers, it’s difficult to have personal dialogues with each follower. But that doesn’t preclude us from getting to know some of our followers and colleagues via Twitter (direct messages and @mentions are one way to do this) or at conferences and Tweetups. Twitter is primarily a broadcast medium, but nothing is more exciting, more indicative of a genuine commitment to dialogue, and more conducive to building trust and relationships with target audiences, than occasionally responding directly to tweets by others, particularly questions asked.
- Listen. Listen. Listen. Twitter is a great way to share information and engage in a dialogue. It’s also a fantastic listening tool. We make sure that we spend part of our time on Twitter listening to the conversation and learning from the people and organizations that we are following. In particular, we pay close attention to accounts with tweets relevant to HIV/AIDS and new media, including other Federal HHS Twitter accounts.
- Make it known. Another important aspect of engaging in a dialogue is making sure people know you are there. At HIV.gov we promote our Twitter presence (as well as our Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and YouTube accounts) on our website, business cards, and even our email signature. And if you’re using hashtags, make them known, too. Encouraging people to join the conversation increases the chances that they actually will. We used the hashtag #twanel during the presentation and were thrilled to have more than 200 tweets during the session(see an archive of the tweets).
- Integrate new media: Make sure your Twitter feed and messages are integrated with all the other means you use to communicate with your audiences, and that they mutually reinforce one another. For example, questions on Twitter can form the basis for a FAQ item that appears on your website; on the other hand, you can tweet teasers for existing or updated content on your site, including a link to the appropriate page, and direct folks to resources they may not be aware of.
Those are some of our Twitter engagement lessons learned. What are yours?