8 Twitter Tips for the Savvy Social Media Practitioner

As Twitter and the lightning-fast adoption of Google+ demonstrate, social media are an easy, cost-effective, timely way to put targeted content in front of your audience.

Here are eight strategies to help your Twitter content get the attention it deserves – while dodging common Twitfalls:

10 tweets aren’t better than 1
Maybe you’ve seen this guy or gal on Twitter: They’ve written a list-blog offering 10 pieces of advice about something and then they tweet each item on the list separately. With only 140 characters (or fewer, if you want a retweet), Twitter is supposed to encourage pithiness and creativity. It’s not supposed to feel like a run-on sentence or a skipping record.

See when your audience is sleeping, know when they’re awake
Now that the infographic on best times to tweet has come out, beware crowding the Twitterverse during these times, especially if your key audience is in a time zone that doesn’t correspond with daylight hours on the east coast of the United States. Wise communicators find the best times for their followers, so have fun and experiment to discover which time of day brings you more replies, retweets, click-throughs, audience engagement, and “favorite” designations.

Unless you are actually in a Witch House band, use hashtags and symbols sparingly
You know these folks: Their tweets look like Witch House* set lists. There are more # and @ symbols than actual words. Yes, you want to engage people. You want your content to reach its intended audience. You wouldn’t be a good communicator or social media practitioner if you didn’t want these things. But, most important of all, you’re going for meaning when you communicate. Write something clear and concise first, then identify the most appropriate audience for your content. Figure out the one hashtag that will reach your audience (two at the very most). Remember, your peeps are already following you. They’ll do the work of getting the word out when your tweets contain content that’s valuable and coherent enough to retweet.

Avoid rerunning old tweets or linking to ancient content
A social media expert I follow, who shall remain nameless, spews out automated (AKA scheduled) tweets all day and night. In order to feed this constant flow with what looks like new content, he resorts to rerunning links to blog posts from several years ago. Nothing sillier and more credibility-crushing than having your latest tweet promote “The Top 5 Twitter Trends of 2008.”

Source your content when retweeting
It can be disconcerting – and reflects on credibility – when someone on Twitter links to a blog post or breaking news, and you discover that they didn’t author the content they’re so actively promoting. If you want to share valuable content from others, take the time, and the extra step, to look up the author on Twitter so you can give them credit. What to do about the person who clued you in to this content? If there’s room, include them in your tweet this way: via @NoBad Language. Or DM (Direct Message) them with a “thank you” for providing a valuable link. It’s only fair and not only will you build credibility for yourself as a content provider, you may find yourself with some grateful new friends.

Don’t run your Twitter stream on LinkedIn
Especially if your Twitter channel goes beyond your professional life to include personal contacts and musings. LinkedIn is for your professional brand. Linking it to a channel that functions as your personal stream of consciousness is risky. The headhunters and HR folks who search LinkedIn for potential job candidates may rule you out if they see Twitter posts about what you did for entertainment over the weekend, your political views, your use of salty language, or rants against your cell phone provider. Know your channels and present your best self – to friends, to recruiters, to fellow alums, to colleagues – in each one.

Resist being drawn in
It’s hard not to chime in when the entire Twitterverse seems to be sharing witty reflections on the topic du jour. As with the previous piece of advice, if you’re tweeting under your real name or can be identified by your Twitter handle – or tweeting on your company’s account – remember that HR is always watching. Social media background checks for job candidates are the norm today, and something you tweeted two years ago can come back to bite you – hard – and you’ll never even know why you didn’t get a second interview for that job you really, really wanted.

“Scoring” is for wild-and-crazy bachelors
Checking your score is the social media version of Googling yourself. We all do it; we all get a little thrill from it. But, you move away from being a truly effective and reliable content provider the more tricks you use to bump up your score.

Here is another reason: Have you ever noticed a true correlation between your activity on social media, like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and your score? Most people I know have the same concern – they’ve been highly active and their score plummets or, like me, they’ve gone on vacation and not touched their social media accounts for two weeks, only to see their score jump 10 points. Whatever algorithms they’re using to calculate your social media status, these scoring services are not yet reliable and they take your eye off the real reasons for engaging on social media.

Focus on content, reliability and engagement within a valued community of professionals or friends, and you’ll be a top-notch Twitterer.

For additional tips on Twitter, check out Larner Caleb’s “10 Ways to Send Out the Wrong Twitter Message.” Helpful and a fun read.

* What’s Witch House? It’s like that time when Prince decided to go by an unpronounceable symbol instead of his name, and everyone was stuck referring to him as TAFKAP (The Artist Formerly Known as Prince). Prince is also known for penning songs with titles like “I Would Die 4 U,” predicting texting- and Twitter-speak by several decades. Witch House bands use symbols for names and song titles, making it ultra-difficult for people to pronounce them or follow them (try typing a Witch House band name into a search engine and see what you get).

Getting Along with Your Gatekeeper: How to Work with Communications Reviewers

A satirical article about working with reviewers of the Legal and HR ilk apparently hit home for a lot of communications pros, judging by the comments.

Let’s face it: anyone who serves as a gate rather than a conduit for communications is going to conjure up some ire from time to time. But, are reviewers such easy targets? Are they entirely to blame for uncomfortable review sessions? Do they always turn prosaic prose into tangled turns of lawyerly phrases?

I’ll be honest: my immediate inclination was to add a “Me, too!” kind of comment to that article. But, in all fairness, I’d answer each of those three questions above with a resounding “No.”

I’ve worked with reviewers for three decades in this industry – from the Legal, HR, Marketing, Regulatory, and Employee Assistance departments, to outside legal counsel and senior business unit leaders. While it’s true that communications reviews are more detailed and onerous than ever before, I find them invaluable, not simply for ensuring accuracy, but in improving my writing.

In my last job, especially, where the content was incredibly technical (yet needed to be explained in every day English) and highly regulated, our R&D, Legal and Regulatory reviewers kept each description and sentence honed to the core of its meaning. There is no wiggle room in the increasingly regulated health-care industry for language that isn’t exact. If I’m honest about what I try to do every day as a writer, I couldn’t describe it any better. And our reviewers helped me achieve that goal of being a clearer, more specific writer, even as they red-lined words and whole paragraphs.

In short, they’ve made me a better writer, one who demands more of my own skills. That’s a definite upside.

There are edit sessions that lean more to the downside. We’ve all been there (as the many comments attached to that article testify). But, in today’s – and tomorrow’s – communications environment, I don’t expect we’ll ever be without reviewers. How do we make these partnerships work so that we communicators don’t feel like we’re constantly bashing our heads against an immovable obstacle?

Here are a few thoughts on maintaining a good relationship with gatekeepers:

Have a known review process
Whether you’re just starting to work with reviewers or have had a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach for years because you all know each other, take the time together to establish a process and put it in writing. Having a known route for review and approval is crucial – even if the process differs slightly each time based on content and new subject matter experts. When things are running smoothly, this doesn’t seem as important; when an error occurs, it can be the only thing that guides your team to a solution and a way to prevent the same problem in the future.

A slightly different interpretation of the same topic: Let each reviewer know who else will provide reviews and, if you’ve got a new player in the mix, what area each person is responsible for, so that no one assumes that certain fact-checking areas are covered when they’re not.

Schedule enough time for reviews
Whether your review cycle involves concurrent reviews (with everyone providing feedback to you, the writer, to collate) or sequential, build a schedule that is fair and respectful of everyone’s workload. This includes yours, if you need time for a final polish before the communication goes live.

Five business days is common courtesy, though unlikely in today’s corporate world. Two-to-three days is fair (if the reviewers agree that’s enough time), however, if you find yourself continually sending out review requests with High Priority exclamation points on them, it’s time to revisit the review process and talk with the team about adjusting the timeline so that everyone has enough time to cover the content they’re responsible for.

Meet your deadline – and help everyone on your review team meet theirs
Showing respect for your colleagues means not shortchanging their review time because you deliver late. If one of your reviewers is consistently missing her or his deadline, bring the team together and show them the review cycle in the form of an MS Project plan, with each person as a linked dependency to the other people in the review process. Note how one weak link in the chain can create havoc for everyone downstream. More to the point, link the seniors leaders or company initiatives that are dependent on this communication and explain what delay means in business terms.

Create understanding for the role of Communications
Surprisingly, this can create tremendous confusion in the review process. Legal and HR reviewers typically see themselves as the safekeepers of corporate reputation and information. If you find yourself repeatedly frustrated by disagreements over what cannot and what can be shared in corporate communications, what you may have is a misunderstanding about the role of Communications. (Or your reviewing departments may have mandates that you’re unaware of because you never explicitly asked.)

It’s worth at least a process check to help your reviewer colleagues understand that communicators have the exact same mandate to protect the company’s reputation and proprietary information and that you follow this mandate to the letter. Getting agreement on a shared set of values can go a long way toward cementing understanding of and team spirit around the work.

Share the purpose of the communication
You don’t need to go to great lengths here, simply include in your cover email the corporate goal, initiative or business unit that the communication supports; list the key messages you want to get across to the audience; note whether the audience is internal, external or both; and itemize key facts that you and your sources feel are vital to making the communication substantive. Be up-front about your goals, and you’ll create a clear sense of why certain information is included.

Find compromises
If an especially descriptive section or paragraph that you feel absolutely must be included – in fact, if it’s the heart of your piece – is causing consternation among your reviewers, and they won’t budge, ask them to be as specific as possible about what can’t go in. Sometimes it will be a single word that’s causing alarm or a turn of phrase that’s setting their teeth on edge. In these cases, your willingness to remove the cause for concern and finesse the language will enable your reviewers to see how the section contributes to the goals for the communication and greenlight what used to be a sea of red ink with only a minor change.

Be prepared to double-check facts
As part of the team, it’s important to share the work and worth the effort to re-check something, especially if it comes back with a red line through it. That senior business leader may, on second viewing, be glad his 10-year outlook on the company’s stock price was removed or revised to something a little less crystal ball-like.

Acknowledge reviewer contributions – before publishing and after
Thank reviewers for their help and their time and include a bulleted list of the agreed-upon changes you’ve made to the piece. Wait a week after publishing and consolidate all of the audience feedback and share it with reviewers.

Never respond to public comments by blaming an error on a reviewer. Ever noticed author acknowledgements in books? Paraphrased, this is what most of them say: “The things that make this book helpful and easy to read were contributed by my reviewers; all errors are mine.”

Follow up on errors offline, one-on-one. It’s a generous and team-spirited approach and one that goes a long way toward creating a conducive long-term working relationship with your gatekeepers.What about your department? How have you created effective partnerships with your reviewers? What tips would you share with fellow communicators?

Summertime Reading Update

Almost as cozy as a hammock. The N.H. porch where I get most of my summer reading done.

On the first day of summer, I itemized the books I wanted to enjoy reading over the summer “vacation.” As we’ve just passed another summer milestone (4th of July), I thought I’d update you on my progress, provide brief reviews, and note that there’s plenty of time before Labor Day to jump on the summer reading bandwagon.

Books I’ve completed:

As I suspected, the brilliant Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog has been my favorite so far. Atkinson stretches the English language without leaving the reader tweaked, merely breathless at the ease and cleverness with which words and plots and characters intertwine to create mysteries that are wicked fun to unravel. I absolutely recommend everything Atkinson has written, though if you want to delve into the Jackson Brodie series, it’s probably best to meet him at the beginning in Case HistoriesThe Hunger Games is an excellent dystopia. I can see why this series (so far, a trilogy, which includes second part, Catching Fire, and book three, Mockingjay) has taken off. Terrific “world-building” and plotting, not as limited by its genre as Twilight is. I didn’t feel compelled to keep reading, so scanned the Wikipedia entries for the rest of the series and found I was satisfied that Book One is probably the best of the three…Simon Pegg’s Nerd Do Well is really a memoir of childhood (and I do mean very young childhood) and probably best left to diehard Pegg or “Shaun of the Dead” fans. There’s not much discussion of the writing or filming of any of the movies Pegg is known for; if this book does well, I imagine he’s saving those stories for future memoirs.

Books still to tackle:

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Catch-22 and Closing Time by Joseph Heller
Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson
Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley

I head to the lakes and woods of New Hampshire on Wednesday, and my peaceful porch where the only thing to be heard for miles around is the thrum of bees and cicadas, birdsong, the careful rustling of deer through the forest and the wind in the trees. As the City of Los Angeles began jackhammering my street today, I think I’m going to get a lot more reading and writing done once I head east.

What are you reading this summer? How much of your summer wish list have you managed to read? Are jackhammers or other matters keeping you from the books you love or are you hunkered down in a hammock and falling in love with reading all over again?

Writing that inspired me this week:

“They had a blue budgerigar when she was small. Tweety-pie. It was hard to be fond of a budgerigar. Her father accidentally stood on it. Her mother said she didn’t see how you could stand on a budgerigar. Too late now to get to the bottom of what had really happened.”
~ Kate Atkinson from Started Early, Took My Dog

All it Takes Is a Little Imagination

Lots of news about Twitter this week, including several stories about using the social media channel to target print media outlets.

One battle is Ashton Kutcher v. Village Voice. A more disturbing story that broke in U.K. newspapers – about the News of the World (NOTW) hacking the phone account of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler – has turned into an all-out war against the tabloid, using Twitter to encourage advertisers to boycott this Fleet Street staple.

The background is thisNOTW is accused of hacking into the mobile phone account of the young teen, who went missing in 2002; listening to voicemail messages left by distraught family and friends; then deleting voicemails when the mailbox was full so that more messages could be left on the system. When relatives of the missing girl discovered that voicemails had been deleted, they thought they had reason to believe she might still be alive and gave hopeful interviews to NOTW.

News of the phone hackings ultimately got out – there are further allegations, involving hacked accounts of other victims of tragedies – and writer Melissa Harrison at the Guardian newspaper began a campaign to make NOTW’s advertisers uncomfortable enough to withdraw their support for a tabloid that might endorse this kind of unprofessional conduct. You can read her description of the response that followed here.

Harrison’s article frankly discusses the importance and some of the difficulties of a free press in a democratic society – the downside being the risk of immoral behavior creeping in to the newsgathering process.

Social media hasn’t been free of some of these downsides (and it could be argued that the technological acumen that gave us cell phones and hacking also conjured up innovations like Twitter). But, Harrison adds, “it’s times like this when Twitter really comes into its own.”

“As a truly democratic forum, everyone can get involved and have their say, and it’s easy to share information and ideas,” Harrison writes. “And because it’s all so public, it’s very hard for companies to ignore public pressure or hide behind rhetoric. For every 5,000 tweets with a funny cat photo there’s a moment like this, when Twitter remembers what it can really do.”

Tabloids are an easy target for disapprobation. So is Twitter. People buy and read tabloids and use social media for all sorts of reasons. As Harrison notes in her article, it’s easy to dismiss some of the awful things that appear in tabloids with the statement that “they only print it because people want to read it.”

While that may be true of celebrity gossip, I think it’s more nuanced when it comes to stories of missing children. This is just my opinion, but I think it may be that most readers seek out stories like this because of fear, not titillation. They are looking for clues, differently from the official investigators, but just as diligently, about the level of danger in their neighborhoods and that their children might be exposed to. They are weighing the information available to them to decide what to do, how to protect their families, and how to talk to their children about some of the terrible things that happen in this world.

Instead of helping, the tabloid failed its readers, misjudging what they were capable of. From the evidence of Melissa Harrison’s Twitter campaign, all it might have taken was a little imagination on the part of NOTW editors and writers to figure out how to channel the concern for a missing child into something far more valuable and lasting, perhaps a campaign that stirred readers to form neighborhood watch groups or reach out to and support the families of victims or find new ways to protect children when they walk home from school.

Making Your Social Media Accounts More Secure

This holiday weekend saw the latest in a string of Twitter hacks, when one of Fox News’s many accounts was broken into and tweets were published implying that U.S. President Barack Obama had been assassinated.

These hacks mainly target popular or celebrity Twitter accounts. According to The New York Times story, representatives from Twitter are claiming it was not the company’s servers that were compromised, while Fox News appears to be investigating where the security breach came from.

While Twitter has had ongoing issues with its servers, especially during periods of heavy traffic, there are steps individuals and companies can take to make accounts more secure:

Use complicated passwords – and protect them
The NYT article suggests that it was a Fox News email account hack that led to the Twitter takeover. Whether you are working remotely, via mobile technology, or in the office, I’m sure your IT department will remind you that you need passwords for all of your personal and social media accounts that are longer than six letters and include numbers and symbols. Change your passwords regularly. And don’t share them with others or let anyone shoulder-surf when you’re typing them on your mobile or tablet devices.

Consolidate your company’s Twitter accounts
The hacked @foxnewspolitics Twitter account was apparently one of many accounts belonging to Fox News. While the news organization is presumably trying to offer more targeted information to its audiences, the most effective way to target and curate is by offering a variety of custom feeds from your website and blogs, rather than on a microblog. One Fox News Twitter handle can promote new content on the various blogs and on the website and audience members can subscribe to the content they’re interested in and ignore the rest. Same thing goes for other companies. Twitter has become a helpful way to reach customer service and receive direct responses from companies, but it’s increasingly unhelpful to users to type in a company name and come up with literally hundreds of options that need to be sorted through to determine which one is correct.

Figure out what’s manageable
To use the @foxnewspolitics example again, the NYT report notes that this particular account was dormant, possibly because of the long holiday weekend. It took 10 hours to notice the break-in, regain control of the account, and remove the phony tweets. This is a manageability issue: there are too many Twitter accounts at this company and not enough people overseeing them, especially on a holiday. Back in the day, when I worked in radio, stations would go off the air overnight when there wasn’t enough sponsor interest to keep a graveyard-shift DJ employed. They did not remain on-air during this time, risking that someone might enter the studio and commandeer the airwaves for their own personal messages. Leaving a Twitter or other social media account unmanaged over a holiday is the equivalent of leaving a radio station transmitter on and a microphone wide open. If your company has social media accounts, it needs to have a plan detailing not just content, but who manages them and when and who covers over holidays.

Have an emergency plan
In addition to a regular editorial and management schedule for your social media accounts, you need a crisis plan. You need to know who to contact at companies like Twitter and Facebook (including how to reach these folks after hours and on holidays) and how you will prove that you indeed are you if someone else has locked you out of your account.