Growing an Account
The most-asked question among Twitter users is this: "How do I get more followers?" While there is no magic bullet to make a Twitter feed grow to the levels that movie stars or other celebrity bloggers enjoy, there are some basic tools that will help spread the word for a better reputation and larger following.
4.1. Following others
One of the first things a Twitter feed administrator should do is follow others. Without following other people, a Twitter account is on an island. Often, following is a reciprocal endeavor, so following peers is key to building a fledgling account. With some minor additions, the guidelines for following on Twitter are similar to those on Facebook:
- On the University level, there is a benefit to following peer institutions such as members of the Association of American Universities, with a focus on those institutions' main university pages only. Following institutions that have similar initiatives, priorities and challenges makes it possible to encourage broader conversations on issues of importance to users. It also is beneficial to follow major funding and governmental organizations such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy. Users interested in research conducted at Princeton often are interested in the priorities of the funding organizations, and also are interested in the funded research being conducted at other institutions.
- The University also follows all current faculty members who have a Twitter feed. These accounts can be found through a Twitter search for the faculty member's name or through looking at the list of followers on other users' and peer institutions' accounts.
- On the unit level, the focus should be on peer units at institutions with similar programs, resources and priorities. For example, the Princeton Environmental Institute would be best suited following organizations that sponsor or conduct environmental and climate studies and similar institutes or departments at peer institutions. Units also should follow all related current faculty.
- It is strongly advised NOT to follow student feeds. Student accounts are usually intended for personal entertainment, and they often contain content that might not be appropriate for the greater Princeton community. Instead, when a student tweets something of value and includes the @Princeton name, retweet the content on a case-by-case basis.
- One word of warning — beware of following more feeds than your unit has followers. For example, if your feed has 100 followers, but you are following 1,000 feeds, Twitter may identify your feed as spam and delete it. During the initial growth phase, try to keep the following/follower ratio to 2:1 or less.
- Follow other official Princeton feed pages to cross-promote. By following and sharing content from other Princeton accounts, users learn about the entirety of the Princeton presence on Twitter, and they are more likely to follow multiple accounts. Also, this allows units to leverage the total audience of the University rather than focusing solely on their unit's audience.
One of the ways Twitter builds discussion is through viral "word of mouth" sharing called retweeting. By sharing posts from other units and other institutions, Princeton enters a broader conversation worldwide. Users see those conversations and are more likely to follow Princeton, which allows further engagement.
4.2.1. Basics of retweeting
On every Twitter interface, whether using the website or a third-party client, a retweet icon exists with every tweet. To share a tweet, click on that retweet icon, then either retweet the content without further comment or add a comment to the beginning of the tweet.
NOTE: If a comment is being added to a retweet, always put the comment at the beginning, rather than after the original content. This is proper etiquette, and it allows your comment to be read first. Usually, these comments add context or connect the retweet to your unit in some way.
4.2.2. Tips for effective retweeting
- In general, you can share announcements from Princeton departments, programs, centers and institutes about events and accomplishments, generally without comment.
SAMPLE TWEET: RT @PUCampusRec: Tiger Trot Registration forms can be found online at princeton.edu/campusrec/intr…. Be one of the FIRST... fb.me/1cMK1xvfP
COMMENT: The original tweet from Campus Recreation provides a link to an event. There's no real need for comment, but spreading this tweet to the main Princeton Twitter audience could help bring more people to the event, so it's worth retweeting without comment. The original tweet, whose content is retained in its entirety as a retweet was: @PUCampusRec: Tiger Trot Registration forms can be found online at princeton.edu/campusrec/intr…. Be one of the FIRST... fb.me/1cMK1xvfP
- Share news from peer universities about research, admissions or announcements, but include a comment that puts the sharing in context for Princeton users or connects it to something going on here. For example, if research is being conducted in a cooperative effort between Princeton and a peer institution, and the peer posts a tweet about the work, a retweet with the comment "Princeton faculty also involved" would provide context that makes the tweet valuable to our followers.
- When possible, shorten retweets from outside sources so a comment that adds Princeton context will fit. For example, in the retweet mentioned above, the key point for our Twitter accounts is the Princeton connection, so using some or all of the style tricks mentioned in Section 1.3 will help the tweet and the context fit within 140 characters.
- Shared information from outside the University should have a connection to Princeton as often as possible; this connection can be to similar research, similar initiatives or programs, or institutions.
- Don't be afraid to retweet plaudits or positive feedback from people in the full Twitterverse. If someone unconnected to Princeton says something good about the University or your unit, a retweet shows that we are engaged and active and is likely to gain another follower.
- Take special care in retweeting when answering a question or responding to negative feedback. While it is sometimes necessary to respond, the character limits can make this problematic. As indicated in the tone/voice section of this document, Twitter "battles" can result from misunderstandings, and Twitter's character limitations make it a very difficult forum for nuanced discussion.
- Word of warning: While retweeting is a good tool, be careful not to retweet everything. This can cause tweet overload for some users, and it puts your unit at risk of losing followers.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to get your feed in front of many more eyes is to use hashtags. These represent keywords and provide a way to link tweets on the same topic across many users' accounts. Because they are searchable and can be grouped by topic, hashtags have proved vital in keeping people connected during live events, disasters and deep discussions. Use them as often as possible, finding keywords that connect a tweet with broader subject matter. For example, in a tweet about fusion, simply including the # symbol will make the word #fusion a hashtag. This can be done anywhere in the tweet. The symbol tells Twitter that this is a hashtagged term that should appear on every timeline that is searching for the word "fusion." The tweet is still intended for the Princeton unit's dedicated followers, but the hashtag makes the tweet visible to users who might not know about the Princeton feed but are interested in the topic of fusion. Here are more tips:
- Use two hashtags to connect multiple discussions. For example, during Princeton's NCAA Tournament game, hashtags that were in use across the Twitterverse included #marchmadness and #NCAA. By using those tags and #GoTigers in Princeton's tweets, users eventually migrated to the Princeton feed. After a while, only the #GoTigers tag was necessary. After a following developed among users interested in how the Tigers were faring in the game, #GoTigers had its own hashtag recognition, and so it was no longer necessary to rely on the #NCAA and #marchmadness hashtags to drive fans to Princeton's feed.
SAMPLE TWEET 1: Are you watching #MarchMadness on campus? We will be tweeting @Princeton's #NCAA game from Frist. #GoTigers
COMMENT: This tweet, used early in the game, connects with people who are following the @Princeton account, as well as people who were following the #NCAA and #MarchMadness hashtags. These kinds of hashtags are easy for users to connect with for large events because they are intuitive.
SAMPLE TWEET 2: @Princeton men pushing @UKbasketball to the brink. Down two points with 60 seconds left! #GoTigers
COMMENT: This tweet, used late in the game, was after the #GoTigers hashtag had become the preferred hashtag for our users. This kind of narrowing of subjects happens a lot with live events, and it lets the users guide some of the interaction. Note also the use of the @UKbasketball username. This put the tweet on the timeline at Kentucky, which encouraged users from both schools to engage in conversation.
- Hashtags can be added anywhere in a tweet. Users have become used to seeing the symbol. There is no limit to how many hashtags can be included in a tweet, but be careful to make the tweet readable and engaging.
- Use basic themes or subjects to start a conversation. For example, a tweet about a coming environmental panel could include #science or #environment or #green along with a hashtag about the event itself, such as #PUgreentalk. Then, as the event draws closer, the event-specific tag becomes the main hashtag as users look for detailed information rather than broad announcements.
SAMPLE TWEET 1: Don't forget to attend the @PEI_PU lecture on #green #architecture and the future of #smartgrowth. #PUgreentalk.
COMMENT: Notice the use of hashtags related to broader subjects. The #smartgrowth hashtag combines multiple words. This is acceptable in the context of hashtags. In fact, some Twitter users make a game of combining many words into hashtags. In the context of a university account, it is best to do this only when related to two- or three-word phrases such as "smart growth."
SAMPLE TWEET 2: The #PUgreentalk is tomorrow night. If you don't have a ticket yet, check out tinyurl.com/adhaskj.
COMMENT: This tweet is posted closer to the event date. By use of this #PUgreentalk hashtag over a number of days, users learn to search for this specific tag rather than the broader subject hashtags. People who read this tweet and know the hashtag are engaged users who are likely to attend, rather than a general audience that may or may not respond.