Date: Monday, September 15, 2014
Not all digital media channels are created equal. Each platform appeals to people differently and each looks and feels different. Knowing these nuances can help reach your community in a more effective manner. Today, we’ll focus on Twitter with future posts covering other platforms.
What makes Twitter a great messaging tool for law enforcement is its innate ability to inform the public through short bursts of information. Effectively crafted tweets can quickly provide factual information, dispel misinformation or rumor, and provide a historical timeline of your agency’s professional efforts to resolve an in-progress event. By following a few guidelines, you can greatly expand your reach and increase the odds that your tweet will be retweeted.
Keep it short
Although Twitter gives you 140 characters to craft your tweet, try to aim for a tweet with around 120 characters. Doing so allows gives people space to add commentary and makes it easier to retweet your message.
If you have an in-progress incident consider creating a hashtag. These days, every crisis has a hashtag. Either you can create it or others will do it for you (and you may not like the results of the latter). Keep your hashtag short (this will help with your character count limitations) and include the incident hashtag on subsequent tweets. Done early enough in a crisis incident, media and the public will follow and also use the same hashtag. Searching the hashtag after an incident will provide a quick historical overview of how things played out. However, #if
. More on hashtags from crisis communications expert Melissa Agnes here
Also, if you have a special event like a parade, fair, or athletic event, there will likely be an associated hashtag. Identifying and using that event hashtag in your tweets is a simple and effective way to reach attendees, even if they don’t follow you on Twitter.
Include photos when possible
Your tweet is competing against hundreds of other tweets scrolling across people’s phones and monitors. Including a quality photo is a great way to grab someone’s attention and help your message stand out among the noise. Visuals are very powerful in the digital media world. Consider using a free tool like Google Maps Engine Lite
to quickly and easily annotate a map to draw attention to an incident area.
According to Wisemetrics, the average half-life of a tweet is 24 minute
s (and that’s assuming it’s been retweeted at least 10 times). If your tweet isn’t getting retweeted, it’s significantly less than that. Try tweeting at different times of the day and monitor the level of engagement. Free tools like Tweriod
will analyze your Twitter account followers and give you a report on the optimal times of the day and/or days of the week to send posts. Of course, all of this goes out the window if there is a breaking incident. In that case, the public will be looking to you and your agency for factual and timely information. If you are silent, you can count on the public or media to fill the information gap (and you may not like those results either).
The whole “putting a period at the beginning of your tweet” thing
If you start a tweet with the “@” sign, Twitter treats it as a conversation you are having with another Twitter account. The only people who will see that tweet are the followers that you and that account both share. Therefore, adding a period “.” at the beginning of a tweet will allow ALL of your followers to see the tweet. In the example below, I’ve added a “.” before mentioning Chief Grogan’s Twitter account to ensure all of my followers can see this tweet:
How you tweet becomes your agency “voice.” Avoid using police jargon and codes. In times of crisis, you will need to be direct and authoritative. Outside of a crisis, avoid the robotic “just the facts” persona. Instead, think of how you would want your front line staff to interact with the public. We don’t train people to be robots. We teach and rely on them to be personable, professional, empathetic, even humorous when appropriate. It should be no different on social media. It’s social media….that mean’s it’s ok to be social.
Lastly, don’t do this:
In the above example, someone has shared six photos on their Facebook page. If you’ve linked your Twitter account with Facebook, you have the option to have Facebook automatically share the same photos on Twitter. The downside is the way it appears above. It’s not attractive, very few will actually click on the link to view the photo, and without more context, people are just going to bypass what would otherwise be an awesome photo from your department.