January 11, 2010

One Approach to Org Twitter Accounts

Filed under: blog — Tags: , , , , , , — tsladmin @ 9:45 pm

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.


  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

  12. […] I was impressed with Jenny Levine’s tips on how to use Twitter in her blog post “One Approach to Org Twitter Accounts”.  Her thorough advice demonstrates that she is exceedingly familiar with Twitter.  I valued […]

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