Twitter is quite possibly the most intimidating and risky form of social media for federal managers. The idea of sharing work-related comments with a broad audience in an off-the-cuff manner seems incompatible with the training that senior feds rely on to be successful in their jobs. But Twitter, when used properly, can provide an invaluable opportunity to share mission goals with stakeholders and to collaborate across agencies.
There are many different strategies for being effective on Twitter, but a few basic guidelines can help keep you on track and out of trouble. First, there are two possible roles managers can play in their Twitter life. Many maintain purely personal Twitter accounts, often with disclaimers in their profiles such as “the opinions expressed here are mine alone.”
The more productive option might to be a representative for your office and agency in the digital space. This usually requires sign-off from a superior or the public affairs office. In maintaining a professional Twitter account, there is a clear line delineating appropriate tone and content. Managers should speak to their followers the way they would address an audience at a conference or town hall meeting of stakeholders or fellow managers in and outside their agencies.
On Twitter, managers have the opportunity to tout their successes, provide updates on projects, and solicit help or best practices advice on any roadblocks. They can field questions and offer advice to fellow managers facing similar challenges. Twitter is a real-time social network, so the timeliness of what is shared should be a top priority.
Another reason to consider a professional rather than personal account is credibility. Research has shown tweets from sources that broad audiences consider reliable—such as major newspapers, well-known corporate executives and government officials—are most likely to be retweeted or shared verbatim by other Twitter users. Most articles and experts recommend sharing information from a reliable source. But as a senior government official discussing the business of your office, you are the reliable source.
To boost reliability, however, consider showing your work or sharing sources. If promoting a draft regulation put out by your office, discuss the interactions you had with affected parties and the process you went through to solicit their input. Consider sharing the results of an internal survey or audit that helped drive the decision-making process. This sort of transparency helps followers feel invested in the project and lends credibility to your actions and your office’s decisions.
Without a doubt, Twitter provides an opportunity to spread the word about your accomplishments as an organization and individually as a manager. The most successful tweeters, however, won’t hog the digital microphone. Just like in real life, listeners are bound to tune out someone who rambles on without engaging the audience. You must be willing to interact with your followers. Accept questions and answer as candidly as possible, even if the response is “I don’t know” or “we’re looking into that.” Retweet information from those you find helpful and promote the good work of fellow federal managers.
As unnatural and risky as Twitter might seem, federal managers should view it as an opportunity to share with a broader audience the type of information they’d love to exchange in person. Government leaders are doing good work and asking good questions; Twitter is one place to share that work and find answers that might lead to innovative solutions.
Elizabeth Newell covered management, human resources and contracting at Government Executive for three years.