January 11, 2010

One Approach to Org Twitter Accounts

I’ve been mulling over this post for sev­eral weeks now, but a con­ver­sa­tion that hap­pened on Twit­ter today prompted me to finally write and pub­lish it. It started when Ken­ley Neufeld wrote a post about par­tic­i­pat­ing in ALA and tweeted the link. Cyndi E. engaged Ken­ley in a con­ver­sa­tion about ALA fol­low­ing its mem­bers back on Twit­ter, which led Ken­ley to ask ALA’s Mid­win­ter Meet­ing account what its fol­low pol­icy is.

what's your follow policy?

Well, I work for ALA, and I run that account (along with three oth­ers), plus my per­sonal one. The “royal” ALA has no offi­cial social media pol­icy, although there is an inter­nal staff task force work­ing on one. I’m not on that group and I haven’t wanted to step on any toes, which is why I haven’t said much online about this topic, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought through some things for the accounts I man­age. Given today’s con­ver­sa­tion, I thought I’d share my approach and solicit feed­back for what you think is and isn’t working.

Before I go any fur­ther, though, I want to note that I kind of fly by the seat of my pants with this stuff at work. I already have a cou­ple of full time roles (as does pretty much every­one at ALA HQ), and track­ing what’s said about MPOW online is pretty near impos­si­ble these days. Amongst the good and bad about the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, the term “ALA” also gets used for A List Apart (espe­cially when they pub­lish a new issue), the abbre­vi­a­tion for “Alabama” in news reports, Ala Moana in Hon­olulu, ala mode, “ala” mean­ing “in the style of,” in Span­ish, and more. I do the best I can, but no one per­son could catch it all unless it was their only job respon­si­bil­ity. I know a lot of folks strug­gle to get sup­port from the top in their orga­ni­za­tion, and I’m lucky that this isn’t one of the bat­tles I have to fight.

All of which is my way of say­ing, your mileage may vary, even within ALA. These are just my thoughts for how I’m han­dling four Twit­ter accounts at work, and I’d love to hear how you think I could do this bet­ter. Maybe this list willl even give you some pro­ce­dural ideas for your own institution’s efforts.

I mainly mon­i­tor and man­age Twit­ter and Friend­Feed accounts, so that’s where I focus my efforts. I’m lucky that oth­ers have taken on the man­tle of man­ag­ing ALA’s Face­book, LinkedIn, Sec­ond Life, and YouTube pres­ences. These are the guide­lines I’ve been fol­low­ing for Twit­ter (I still need to imple­ment most of these on FriendFeed).

  1. My goals for the accounts are to lis­ten, answer ques­tions, inter­act, and inform.
  2. I fol­low most pub­lic accounts that fol­low us, as long as its not a spam­mer, bot, or “social media expert” who has thou­sands of fol­low­ers. I don’t have any­thing against the gurus, but they’re not the audi­ence I want to inter­act with. It may take me a week to log in and fol­low all the new folks, but that’s my goal. I’m some­what pas­sive about this because of the lack of an easy way to han­dle fol­low­ers from one source, although right now I’m actively try­ing to fol­low any human being who say they’re attend­ing our Mid­win­ter Meet­ing this week. I do this to make it eas­ier to lis­ten and respond, plus it gives these folks the abil­ity to direct mes­sage us.
  3. The excep­tion to rule #2 is that I don’t fol­low pri­vate accounts. I real­ize some folks make their accounts pri­vate to avoid spam­mers, but I can’t tell those from the folks who truly want their tweets to be pri­vate. As an orga­ni­za­tional account that mul­ti­ple staff mem­bers might have access to, I don’t want to expose those tweets or set up a sit­u­a­tion where some­one might acci­den­tally retweet some­thing private.
  4. I try to do more than just click a book­marklet, so I’ll rephrase con­tent to get it down to 130 char­ac­ters or some­how add value to the head­line of a press release. I try to be human and avoid mar­ket­ing speak, and I don’t get hung up on cap­i­tal­iza­tion, even though my under­grad­u­ate degree is in journalism.
  5. I do my best to shoot for 130 char­ac­ters to pro­vide for easy retweetability.
  6. Although this doesn’t apply to all orga­ni­za­tions, I’m a big believer in the “right of first tweet.” Within ALA, there’s no one “mas­ter” Twit­ter account for the Asso­ci­a­tion as a whole. Instead, every office, divi­sion, round table, etc., has its own account. In order to help build the audi­ence for those accounts and give credit, I try to not announce news first that really belongs to other ALA units. Instead, I do my best to retweet their tweets. That doesn’t always hap­pen, but I think it’s their right to have the first shot at it.
  7. Some­thing new I’ve been try­ing lately is to avoid retweet­ing some­one else’s con­tent imme­di­ately after they tweet it, espe­cially if they’ve used a hash­tag. Instead, I use Hoot­Suite to sched­ule the tweet at a dif­fer­ent time of day in order to try to reach a dif­fer­ent audi­ence that may not have seen the orig­i­nal one. If it was a morn­ing tweet, I’ll sched­ule the retweet for the after­noon, and vice versa.
  8. I’m cur­rently using bit.ly to shorten URLs so that I can get sta­tis­tics for how often links are being fol­lowed. I also try to use cus­tom bit.ly URLs for links I know I’ll re-use a lot. I fer­vently wish Hoot­Suite would get rid of the frames on its ow.ly ser­vice or at least give URL cre­ators the option to turn them off. Until then, I’ll keep using bit.ly.
  9. I delib­er­ately retweet from indi­vid­u­als, not just other ALA units or orga­ni­za­tions. My take on it is that we’re all in this together, and we’re all part of the con­ver­sa­tion. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll be retweet­ing every­thing posted to the #nopants tag. ;-)
  10. Rather than count­ing the num­ber of fol­low­ers as a met­ric, I’ve started track­ing con­ver­sa­tions. I still haven’t found what I con­sider to be an opti­mal way to do this, but for the moment, I’m clip­ping tweets to a note­book in my Ever­note account (I’m on the free ser­vice for now) so that I can find them again. Because it’s so dif­fi­cult to track the term “ALA,” I haven’t found an easy way to report out what’s being said about us, other than by man­u­ally writ­ing up an email.
  11. Per­son­ally, I have an unlim­ited text mes­sag­ing plan (I <3 texting), so I use notify.me to have Twit­ter men­tions sent to my phone via SMS so that I get imme­di­ate alerts when some­one men­tions or directs a tweet to one of the ALA accounts. If you don’t want to go the SMS route, you can have the noti­fi­ca­tions sent to an email address, instant mes­sag­ing account, or to a desk­top app/widget. And this setup doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean I respond right away, espe­cially if I’m out with friends, watch­ing a movie, or if it’s late at night. I’ve worked hard to bal­ance my work and per­sonal lives, and so far it’s work­ing fairly well. But the notice gives me a heads up, and I can then assess the urgency.

Those are the var­i­ous Twit­ter issues I’ve thought through so far. Based on some other prob­lems that have come up at work, I have some gen­eral advice for other orga­ni­za­tions using social sites.

  • Did you know that the per­son who cre­ates a Face­book page can never be removed? Never, ever, ever, ever plus a day. The only way is to delete the person’s account, which an orga­ni­za­tion can’t do if it’s a per­sonal account. So be care­ful about who cre­ates your organization’s page(s), because you’ll never be able to remove that per­son as an admin. You can add other admins, but you can’t remove the orig­i­nal cre­ator. Add my voice to the cho­rus of frus­trated users who wish Face­book would change this pol­icy yesterday.
  • Be very care­ful when you’re set­ting up your bit.ly links. If you acci­den­tally paste in the wrong URL (which I’ve done), you can’t go back and change it. Ever, as in ever plus a day. If you mess up a cus­tom URL, you’ll never be able to get it back. Ever. Did I men­tion ever?
  • And speak­ing of bit.ly, if you haven’t already done this, you might want to go grab the most obvi­ous cus­tom bit.ly URLs for your orga­ni­za­tion so that some­one else doesn’t use/steal/hijack them. Espe­cially if you want a short and easy way to point to your own site on Twit­ter and get sta­tis­tics for num­ber of clicks. You can decide if you want to do this on other URL short­en­ing ser­vices, too.

So those are some quick thoughts that have been swim­ming around in my head. I’d love to hear your thoughts about how I can do this bet­ter, and what you’d like to see from the ALA accounts I run.

Be Socia­ble, Share!


  1. Love it! God, I wish I took more time for proper assess­ment (my big weak area). Your guides are proper and good and demon­strate an active and long term Twit­ter user (is there such a thing as long term Twit­ter user?).

    Hope to see you in Boston.

    Comment by Kenley Neufeld — January 11, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

  2. Thanks for the con­ver­sa­tion today that nudged me to finally write this up, Ken­ley. Def­i­nitely hop­ing our paths cross for more than a moment in Boston!

    Comment by jenny — January 11, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

  3. Nice post. I love the idea of not retweet­ing things imme­di­ately — it makes so much more sense to do that later.

    Comment by Jonathan — January 12, 2010 @ 3:12 pm

  4. this is bril­liant, thanks for shar­ing, Jenny. I am so adding this post to my read­ing list for my social media LIS course *right now*!

    Comment by amanda — January 12, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

  5. Thanks, Jonathan and Amanda! These ideas *seem* to be work­ing pretty well for me so far. It will be inter­est­ing to see how this strat­egy evolves over time.

    Comment by jenny — January 12, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

  6. Jenny,

    Rather than work up a post for Mar­gin­a­lia, I’m respond­ing here, as this seems to be where this con­ver­sa­tion is going on. As you note, there is no sin­gle “offi­cial,” for all of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, twit­ter stream. Instead, there are 56 (at cur­rent count) ALA twit­ter streams–and I sus­pect that there are 56 dif­fer­ent pur­poses and goals for those accounts. (See http://twitter.com/alalibraryval/alaontwitter)

    For the ALA Library, our pur­pose in set­ting up an account was to be able to gather cur­rent infor­ma­tion about trends and activ­i­ties in the larger library world, as an expan­sion of what we were already pick­ing up from a wide range of blog feeds and other gath­er­ing means. We use this infor­ma­tion to build out our web-based resources (both ALA Library Fact Sheets at http://www.ala.org and the Pro­fes­sional Tips wiki), for doing col­lec­tion devel­op­ment of the more tra­di­tional sort, and for build­ing gen­eral aware­ness so that we can be effec­tive in respond­ing to ques­tions. So, rather than seek­ing out con­ver­sa­tions, we seek out infor­ma­tion, and we have been selec­tive in choos­ing whom we fol­low. We have also “edited” our selec­tion from time to time, as peo­ple change their post­ing patterns.

    We for­ward links to infor­ma­tive blog posts, reports, sta­tis­tics, ALA news, and some ran­dom friv­o­lous items (yesterday’s was a note that it was the anniver­sary of the first deliv­ery of milk in bot­tles). Yes, we do use the “owly’s,” for bet­ter or worse. Like you, we use Hoot­suite to sched­ule into the future so that the same news will reach peo­ple at dif­fer­ent times, as we know how easy it is to miss a tweet when they all come in a rush, or to over­look one when doing catch up fol­low­ing being away from the stream, either due to being in meet­ings, on a ref­er­ence call, or work­ing on a project (like cat­a­loging the online doc­u­ment dis­cov­ered in an ear­lier tweet).

    And in between all of this, we do receive actual ref­er­ence ques­tions that we answer, some­times with a tweet and some­times by reach­ing out for a wordier option.

    Comment by Karen Muller — January 12, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

  7. Infor­ma­tive. Thanks.

    Comment by Dan Kleinman — January 12, 2010 @ 8:13 pm

  8. Thanks for shar­ing this infor­ma­tion, Karen. It’s always great to hear how other units are approach­ing these same issues.

    In case you decide to recon­sider your fol­low pol­icy based on the mem­ber feed­back you’ve received, I’ll note two things.

    1. Only accounts you fol­low can direct mes­sage you, so by not fol­low­ing peo­ple back, you’re los­ing a com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel with them, espe­cially for ask­ing ques­tions. For me, that’s one of the most impor­tant rea­sons for an offi­cial asso­ci­a­tion account to fol­low peo­ple back. Obvi­ously your mileage may vary, but if one of your goals is to answer ques­tions via Twit­ter, then offer­ing direct mes­sag­ing would meet that goal.
    2. Twit­ter lists can help you man­age a large list of fol­low­ers if that’s part of your con­cern. It’s easy to get over­whelmed by how quickly time­lines move, so seg­ment­ing accounts into lists can help with that.

    Fol­low­ing mem­bers might be a great way for you to offer even more to members.


    Comment by jenny — January 12, 2010 @ 9:09 pm

  9. You said:

    The “royal” ALA has no offi­cial social media pol­icy, although there is an inter­nal staff task force work­ing on one. I’m not on that group…

    Really? As the most pub­lic face of ALA in social media that I know of (Twit­ter and Friend­Feed), I hope you are at least being consulted!

    Comment by Peter Murray — January 14, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

  10. great post per usual, jenny — i’m mulling over sim­i­lar twit­ter issues within my own orga­ni­za­tional bat­tle­ship, so these are excel­lent tips/thinking points. i leave you with an apro­pos lyric: “did you ever know that you’re my hero, and every­thing i would like to be?” (that one goes out to ken­ley, too.)

    Comment by char booth — January 15, 2010 @ 9:07 am

  11. Big thanks for this arti­cle, the depth and detail really helped me keep my focus as I try to build an over­all plan at my org.

    Comment by Melissa Weaver — March 23, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

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    Pingback by Monica's blog » Policies: Best and Worst Practices — March 31, 2010 @ 6:40 pm

  13. […] Twit­ter, some inter­est­ing facts arise in Jenny Levine, The Shifted Librarian‘s dis­cus­sion of her take on orga­ni­za­tion Twit­ter accounts — the most inter­est­ing of these is that “Within ALA, there’s no one […]

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