Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What are the "Rules of Engagement" for Twitter?

The subcouncil team has had some active discussions about policy aspects of Twitter for government agencies over the past few weeks. At a time when Government agencies are starting to actively engage with constituents using social media tools, there's still different schools of thought about how to approach Twitter.

On a recent episode of Government 2.0 Radio, the point was raised that government agencies are now listening to the conversation happening online, but there's still some hesitancy to actually engage in conversation.

Questions come to mind about whom to follow and when to engage in the conversation. Twitter is no different than any other social media tool: how you use it really depends on your communication goals.

For the Massachusetts Governor's Office, the rules of engagement are clear, and posted right online.

To paraphrase:
-They follow people who follow them.
-They use Twitter to connect citizens with government and to get feedback.
-They review and update "as much as possible", along with other channels of feedback, outreach and engagement.
-They explain how the feedback they receive on Twitter is incorporated in the same way as feedback they receive through more conventional channels.

Some agencies have yet to take the plunge into full engagement. They aren't following anyone. They may be monitoring @ replies, but are not responding directly to them in the public forum. Although this cautious approach may be appropriate under certain circumstances, does it send the wrong message about openness and willingness to engage?

There are probably 101 uses for Twitter, so there's probably no 100% correct answer here. In establishing best practices for Twitter use by government entities, we want to consider all factors.

The Social Media Subcouncil asks you: what are your rules of engagement? How do you use Twitter, and how do you engage with followers?

Marilyn Clark is the Manager of Online Communications and Services for the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and a member of the Social Media Subcouncil. You can connect with her on Twitter or GovLoop.


  1. Following someone is probably fine, even if they're not a gov't entity. What becomes a stickier situation is the implying of endorsement if you RT someone's message. If you RT as a gov't entity, does that mean you're endorsing them as a person and all of their tweets in the past...or just that one? If you RT the same person more than once then are you solidifying that relationship and telling the public, "follow this person b/c I'm RT their content more than once so it must mean they've got good things to say?"

    I think the "endorsement" assumption is what many people are afraid of when it comes to Twitter. That's as a result of all the other endorsement type issues that gov't web managers have dealt with for years. We're fearful of it at times.

    The other thing people are afraid of, and it's probably more so the lawyers, is saying something that you're not supposed to say. That I think comes down to trusting your employees. People are going to slip up...they do it now even in the Web 1.0 world. But you deal with them individually. If government wants to engage the public more transparently, we can't expect to have it 100% perfect/vetted before it goes out the door. Mistakes will happen. We learn from those mistakes and we move on.

  2. Like successful government blogs, I believe a key to successful utilization of twitter includes a few important things - like "exposing" or otherwise attributing the tweets to a distinct, named personality. Also, being sure to then stay on top of monitoring reaction, whether directly back to the tweet, or as syndicated and commented elsewhere; this can help a government achieve and manage the accountability they may be concerned about - see my article at http://tedmclaughlan.ulitzer.com/node/1012800 for more...

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