Taming Twitter

December 1, 2014, Department, by Linda Oakleaf, Ph.D.

Adding a Twitter account to your agency’s social media profile can help reach more constituents and elevate visibility for events and programs.Many park and recreation agencies have a robust presence on Twitter, but for many others, Twitter remains one piece of the social media puzzle that is missing. Twitter can be a useful way to publicize your agency and the good work that your staff members and volunteers are doing. Adoption of Twitter has been growing across all age categories. As of January 2014, 19 percent of adults in the United States used Twitter, and the largest group of those users (35 percent) is between the ages of 18 and 29, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Twitter can be an effective way to engage with park users.

The public nature of tweets means it is likely that your agency is being discussed on Twitter whether you have an active account there or not. This could mean that disgruntled park visitors’ needs are not being addressed, but more importantly, it means that you are not able to reap the benefits when users publically praise your agency or your events. Managed well, an active Twitter account means that you can be a part of the conversation instead of simply being its subject. Joining that conversation will mean devoting agency resources to the planning and maintenance of your Twitter account. As with other social media, it is free to join but will cost the agency in terms of staff time and attention.

Once you’ve decided to take the plunge, you will need to make a plan and execute it. Most Twitter users follow many accounts and cannot read every tweet of the accounts they follow. Instead, users generally read only the most recent tweets. As a result, you will want to keep your tweets focused on what has happened in the last 24 hours and what will be happening soon. Twitter was once mostly text-based, but the site has been redesigned to emphasize photos and videos. Use of pictures and video can make your Twitter feed more eye-catching. Make sure that many of your tweets also include pictures and consider adding video right in your feed. To do that, you’ll need to use Vine, a service that allows users to record and edit six-second long looping video clips.

Implementing a Twitter strategy takes time and effort. To ensure that you are tweeting regularly and that you are being purposeful about your content, create a calendar. Determine when you will tweet reminders for event registration, opening and closing of seasonal facilities, and other regular reminders. Around these important dates, be sure to schedule other content such as photos from events and programs, pictures of staff members getting ready for upcoming events, photos from your archives for “Throwback Thursday,” quotes, giveaways, coupons, thanks to donors or volunteers, etc. As you schedule tweets, think about what your followers will find interesting and worthwhile. You will want to tweet at least once or twice a day. Make sure that your Twitter strategy reflects the mission and vision of your organization. Retweeting is another way to provide good content to your followers, so be purposeful about whom you follow so that you can retweet relevant and interesting information. While you’re at it, be sure to add tweeting into your emergency procedures as another venue for communicating with the public during an emergency.

You have a schedule, you have content to tweet — now you need to gain followers. Make sure that your profile is readily searchable by inserting likely keywords into it. Also, be sure to include your Twitter handle on all promotional materials — your brochures, website and emails. Consider creating hashtags for your signature events and make sure to publicize them. Signage at large events can help draw followers and also encourage people to tweet about your events. Engaging with park users who tweet about your facilities and events will also help you gain more followers. Do regular keyword searches of event, park and program names to find people tweeting about your facilities and your programs, and then retweet positive comments and pictures. Regular searches also mean that if you find negative comments, you can reach out to provide better customer service. 

As you begin tweeting, remember these three principles and you won’t go wrong: 

1) Think about your tweets from the point of view of your readers; 

2) Make sure your tweets support your agency’s mission; and 

3) Be willing to have a little fun. After all, fun is part of our mission, too.

Linda Oakleaf, Ph.D., is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Leisure, Sport and Tourism Studies program at Middle Tennessee State University. Follow her on Twitter @parks_and_rec.



Twitter Basics

  • The maximum length for a tweet is 140 characters.
  • Hashtags (what we used to call “the pound sign”) turn words into clickable links.
  • The default (and typical) setting is for all tweets to be public. “Followers” see what you say in their feed, and your feed consists of what the people you’re following are saying.
  • Reply to others by placing the “@” symbol before a user name, e.g., @parks_and_rec. The user will get a notification that you mentioned them.
  • Retweet (repeat what other users said) with the retweet button, or by typing RT: @user_name “Whatever they said goes here.”
  • Consider using tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to help manage your Twitter account. These tools can automate scheduled posts, keep tabs on specific search terms and help you manage multiple accounts.
  • Make sure you track your progress. Measure user engagement by the hour with Twitter Analytics.