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F&M Best Practices for Twitter

Twitter can be a valuable part of a cohesive engagement effort if you identified this platform as an appropriate tool in your overall social media strategy. Along with the Franklin & Marshall College Social Media Policies, this set of best practices is intended to provide the guidelines and suggestions that F&M's departments, offices and programs need to create a successful Twitter presence.

While some of these principles provide helpful guidance for individuals with personal Twitter accounts, these practices aim to provide support for using Twitter in an institutional framework. Part of this document includes guidance for all College employees about balancing representation of your professional role with the distinct presence you might want to maintain on Twitter in the personal realm.



What is Twitter?

Twitter is a social networking platform built on interactions between users sharing tweets—short messages limited to 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation). Tweets can serve a function similar to that of Facebook status updates or a blog, allowing account holders to share information, opinions and links to photos or other online content. However, Twitter's roots in text messaging and mobile apps have led to the platform being recognized above others as an ideal tool for real-time news and location sharing.

Users can create new tweets using twitter.com, mobile and desktop applications, or through cell phone text messages. Twitter accounts are public by default, but can be set up to be private.

A user's Twitter network is made up of other individuals or organizations with Twitter accounts that he or she chooses to "follow." Tweets from the accounts in your network can be viewed on your Timeline by logging in to twitter.com, or via mobile and desktop applications.


Why use Twitter?

Twitter has a smaller user base than social networking services like Facebook, but this network can offer you or your institutional unit a platform that reaches different members of your audience in different ways. Users enjoy Twitter for its brevity, its timeliness and the ease with which they can connect with people, places and topics relevant to them. Because of its sense of being less scripted (necessarily so, because of the brevity of posts) and "in the moment," Twitter often makes users feel more personally connected.

Franklin & Marshall's institutional Twitter account has been useful for sharing news, soliciting feedback, communicating real-time information about events (including campus emergencies) and serving as a point of reference—and pride—for students and alumni.

Twitter should also be considered a platform for listening. Your account Timeline can deliver an instant pulse on the moods and interests of the individuals or organizations you follow. Knowing what interests your audience can help you tailor the content your share, not only on Twitter but on other social networks as well.

Like Facebook, Twitter may not be of any use unless you can commit resources to maintaining an account. This means not only designating individual(s) who can administer the account, but also setting aside regular time for monitoring, posting and responding to tweets. Be aware that Twitter users typically expect a faster response to a tweet than they would a Facebook post. If you do not have time or resources to dedicate to interacting on Twitter daily—and ideally multiple times per day—consider whether your needs can be met by leveraging F&M's existing Twitter accounts. 


How do I get started?

If you are new to Twitter, we advise creating a personal account before setting up an institutional account. Using Twitter is not as intuitive as using Facebook, and you will benefit by learning the tools and lingo in an environment not branded with the F&M name.

Please refer to the section in our Social Media Policies titled “Creating Institutional Social Media Accounts” for general guidelines on getting started. For specific instructions on setting up a Twitter account, please see the Twitter Help Center:

https://support.twitter.com/groups/31-twitter-basics

Notify the Office of College Communications when you have established—or plan to establish—an institutional social media presence for your College department, office or program. Doing so allows College Communications to support your by advising on strategy, and to network and coordinate content for all F&M-related social media accounts. E-mail .

Unlike Facebook Pages and Groups, Twitter accounts can only be administered with one username/password. Ideally, this would be set up using a non-personal fandm.edu e-mail account in order to facilitate access by multiple users and ensure continuity.

As the account holder, you can:

  • Find and Follow Others: If managing an institutional account, begin by finding and following other F&M-related accounts. Also search for external organizations or individuals who are related to your specific academic field or administrative function. Following your Followers is useful for using Twitter to listen to your audience.
  • Tweet: Share news, photos or links that may be relevant to your audience. Use a hashtag to instantly relate your tweet to others on a similar topic.
  • Retweet: Share a tweet posted by another user. You may also comment as you retweet, but remember the total 140-character limit.
  • Direct Message: Send a private message to one of your Followers. You can only send a direct message to a user who is following you; you can only receive direct messages from users you follow.

How do I format the profile page?

Every Twitter account is given a profile page at twitter.com. Typically, the URL is formatted with your Twitter username (e.g. twitter.com/fandmcollege). When referring to your Twitter account, this is the page to which you can link users from your website or other social media platforms.

The default view of your profile page includes a timeline of your public tweets, along with links to view your list of those you follow, your followers, favorites, public lists and recent images that you've tweeted. Below are some suggestions for formatting specific elements of this page:

  • Choose a profile pic that is identifiable at very small sizes. A logo works best, and College Communications can provide a graphic that includes the F&M mark with your unit name.
  • Choose a background image or color that speaks to your mission or appeals to your audience. College Communications can provide a graphic that includes the F&M mark or an appropriately sized photo. Avoid images with close-ups of faces, as these may be awkwardly obscured by other elements of the page. Be sure to view the background at various browser widths on different platforms.
  • Write a bio statement (must be 160 characters or less) that describes your unit (mention Franklin & Marshall or F&M), the mission of your unit and/or why you want to tweet. If space permits, include an element of personality (e.g. @museumFM: The Phillips Museum of Art at Franklin & Marshall College is a laboratory of learning for the campus and community.)

How do I tweet?

A useful first step in learning how to use Twitter is to focus first on listening. This means finding and following accounts that are relevant to your institutional unit and your primary audience. (Now is also a good time to define your primary audience.) Viewing the tweets of those you follow in your Timeline will give you a better idea on how to structure a successful tweet:


  • Many tweets direct readers to online sources via links. If it is not obvious why you are posting a particular link, add some context to make the item relevant for your followers. For example, the following article has a headline that does not mention F&M, but the story is about a report prepared by F&M's Local Economy Center:

    A report by F&M's Local Economy Center shows that Lancaster County is suffering from a "personal income gap" http://bit.ly/LiPJ8r
     
  • Use Twitter's built-in tools for shortening links. If you plan on maintaining multiple social media accounts, consider using a service such as bit.ly that allows you to track clicks across platforms.
  • Make note of the hashtags that are being used by those you follow. A hashtag is a # followed by a keyword or phrase that serves to link your tweet to others using the same hashtag. Visit hashtags.org or click the Discover link at twitter.com to search a particular hashtag and see how other accounts are using it.
    • Some hashtags evolve into memes (viral content) that evoke humor (#MyGraduationSpeech) or provoke thought (#threewordstoliveby). As you can see, capitalization does not matter when using a hashtag, and phrases must be strung together.
    • Hashtags can also be used as a meta-comment on your tweet. For example:

      Looking forward to seeing the presentations from yesterday's Innovation Challenge #whyitworks
    • Hashtags are also popular for creating a stream of tweets tied to a particular event (e.g. #FandM2012 for the 2012 Commencement). If you plan on creating and using a tag in this manner, be sure to advertise it ahead of time.
       
  • If mentioning an institution, brand or individual who uses Twitter, link to those accounts by including the @ followed by the Twitter handle (e.g. @fandmcollege). This is known as a mention and will appear in the recipient's Timeline.

    proud to be sending not one, but two kids to @FandMCollege!!!!
     
  • A tweet that begins with another user's username and is in reply to one of their tweets is known as an @reply. Anyone following the recipient will see this tweet; do not confuse public @replies with direct messages, which are private.

What should I tweet about?

Think of your institutional Twitter account as your unit's online persona and treat the account accordingly. Please refer to the section in our Social Media Policies on posting content for some general guidelines. Below is some advice specific to tweeting.

  • Share news about your unit by providing links to your website, F&M News articles or external mentions.
  • Ask questions of your followers and invite replies.
  • Share photos/videos. Consider tying your Twitter account to a photo or video sharing service (e.g. Instagram, YouTube) to make this easier.
  • Retweet content from your Timeline or related hashtags.
  • Reply to tweets from those you follow.

Twitter differs from Facebook in that your account can more easily serve as a venue for conversation with your followers and those you follow. When conversing with another account, try to keep a light tone, but always remember that you are speaking on behalf of the College. Replying to tweets that give you a public mention can be a successful communications tactic.

  • Example of light tone on Twitter

How do I get more followers?

Depending on how you plan to use Twitter, the number of followers for your account may not be a useful measure of success. If you want to use Twitter to keep abreast of the latest news in your field, then you should pay more attention to who you follow, as those are the accounts that will make up your Timeline. In either case, this is a useful first step, as many accounts will reciprocate being followed, particularly if you share something in common.

Be sure to advertise your Twitter account via your traditional channels of communication (e-mail, website, print pieces). Include a link to the account in your e-mail signature.


How should I moderate content?

Twitter has become a popular platform for consumers to vent about (and occasionally praise) brands with which they interact. Because of this, many corporations have invested in resources to manage Twitter accounts that focus on customer service, and this is one aspect of Twitter that you should also consider when setting up an institutional account.

Respond to any questions or concerns raised in a timely manner. If you need time to formulate a response, make the tweeter aware of that. Consider referring them to the appropriate College office with a direct message containing a phone number and e-mail address for an off-line response, particularly for sensitive matters.

If you see a post misrepresenting Franklin & Marshall on social media, feel free to point it out, but do so with respect. Avoid arguments and do not try to goad posters into inflammatory debates. Make sure what you are posting in response to another user is factually correct. Linking to a citation can be helpful.

If you make an error, admit your mistake and correct it quickly. If you modify a post, make it clear that you have done so, and why, if appropriate. If someone accuses you of posting something improper—such as copyrighted material or a defamatory comment—remove it immediately (failure to do so may result in legal action).


Can I use Twitter as part of my academic instruction?

Because Twitter allows users to create multiple accounts (based on e-mail), faculty may consider a "professional" account that could be used to tweet information relevant to their students. However, faculty should not tweet anything they would not otherwise announce publically and be careful when replying or messaging with students to ensure that no federally protected information is shared. Posting information that would connect any identified student with information that might appear in a transcript, such as grades, names of instructors (including if you are that instructor), course names, etc., is a violation of laws prohibiting sharing protected information. Details on a student's campus activities, health and wellbeing, etc. also might be protected. For example:

  • ACCEPTABLE: Students in HIS101 might enjoy this podcast http://www.backstoryradio.org/
  • NOT ACCEPTABLE: @fmstudent Your paper on the Mayan apocolypse is riddled with inaccuracies.
  • NOT ACCEPTABLE: @fmstudent I was able to get you the last seat in GEO234
  • NOT ACCEPTABLE: Congrats! RT @fmstudent: I got an A on my music composition!!!
  • NOT ACCEPTABLE: @fmstudent has been out with the flu, so let's all wish her a speedy recovery!

Faculty members looking for ways to facilitate protected online communication with students should contact the staff of the Instructional and Emerging Technology unit of ITS.

See Item 4 from the "Posting Content" section of our Social Media Policies document for more specifics on privileged and confidential information.


How do I keep my professional and private personas separate on Twitter?

Unlike Facebook, Twitter has no prohibition on creating multiple accounts, although an e-mail address can only be tied to one Twitter username. This means that—in addition to creating an institutional account—you as an individual can create a professional account (with your F&M e-mail address) and a personal account (tied to a personal e-mail address).

We do recommend that those having access to an institutional account become familiar with Twitter by setting up a personal account first. Some tips on maintaining privacy with personal accounts:

 

For questions about any of these best practices, contact Social Media Coordinator and Web Producer Tim Brixius in the Office of College Communications by emailing or by calling 717-358-7179.

Last updated 1/24/13

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