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April 10, 2011

Tweet this, NERCOMP: Twitter for an organization. Part 1

A little background

While with my former employer I set up a Twitter account for my department and nurtured it to over 1750 followers. When I left for my new job I immediately missed managing a Twitter account for a group or organization. So I found an alternative. As of March this year, I am officially tweeting for @NERCOMP (http://www.nercomp.org) the Northeast Regional Computing Program, an affiliate of EDUCAUSE.

Dave Wedaman, @wedaman on Twitter, and treasurer with the NERCOMP Board of Directors, help to create this position. Together he and I defined responsibilities affiliated with this role and drafted a short list of goals. It was a a good exchange of ideas and concerns to which we easily came to a mutual agreement. Dave is a regular Twitter user (that’s how we met) which helped a great deal. It would not have been easy to make this arrangement if I had to sell Twitter to Dave; he was already a loyal consumer. After obtaining official organization approval, Dave gave me the go ahead to get started.

First things first

@NERCOMP already had an account and someone tweeting from time to time. There were slightly over 200 followers which isn’t bad for a lightly used account. But NERCOMP has over 270 member organizations so I knew there must be hundreds more potential followers out there. Building follower relationships requires engagement. Twitter is an ongoing conversation. To build relationships our part of the conversation must be engaging, thoughtful, and interesting. Having robust conversations requires followers. In summary: post interesting things to gain followers and communicate with followers to find more interesting things to share. But before I could begin, I needed to clean house a bit and set up a means to monitor the account and track activity.

Twitter tools

First I swapped out the old purple with yellow stars background and the old Twitter layout. I used COLOURlovers Themeleon http://www.colourlovers.com/themeleon/twitter) to update the look and feel of the page. I didn’t go nuts with customization; I simply chose a theme that was modest and clean. The next thing I did was update the profile info on the account so when we have visitors from outside our region they could understand who we are. I was sure to include the fact that we are an EDUCAUSE affiliate; it gives us a little higher ed street cred.

Next, I associated the account with the few Twitter tools I have found to be reliable and helpful when managing a business or organizational account.

  1. HootSuite (http://hootsuite.com): I love this web based Twitter client. I can easily access and post to my Twitter accounts (as well as my Facebook, Linkedin, Foursquare and Ning accounts). It provides some simple tools for tracking clicks and includes the option for scheduling tweets (more on that in a future post). There is also a page to view followers and see how many followers they have along with klout score.
  2. TwitterCounter (http://twittercounter.com): Every week I get an email with a quick at-a-glance summary of follower activity. I can grab a few snapshots of recent activity (number of tweets compared to number of followers) to save as an archive of account growth. These weekly snapshots as a visualization of our engagement - when I see a spike in the data I can go back and track down that day or a specific tweet and find out why we had significant activity.

  3. Gmail (http://gmail.com): I created an alias account in Gmail. Whenever the NERCOMP Twitter account has a new follower, an email is sent to that alias GMail account, and it is filtered and tagged with a label. It gives me a heads up about new follower activity in between TwitterCounter reports. When I see a big name in higher ed now following, I can follow back and shoot out a welcome and thanks message to them. On the days I see a surge in new followers it is because of something recently tweeted or retweeted, thus drawing my attention to whatever was effective for building relationships in that instance.

In the last month we have gone from 216 to 262 followers. Modest growth considering we just had our annual conference, but the quality of engagement is good. Those new followers are adding something to the conversation and sharing our tweets with their followers. My goal is to keep growth steady, by nurturing the relationships and reaching out to a broader audience.


More post coming on this endeavor, including why I use a Twitter client to manage the account; deciding what to tweet and when; followers and following; conference and event tweeting and organization representation.

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