Beginners’ tips for the new public sector tweeter

Feb 4, 2012

For public sector types starting to tweet, it can be a bit daunting making a start.

So here are some basic tips for getting started – these are just a few that I have found worked for me.

by rikulu

[Photo by rikulu]

Finding people to follow

Finding people to follow is a good start but takes a bit of metaphorical legwork. Some ideas for finding the right people to follow:

Search for your location – by looking for tweets that include the name of the area your organisation covers, you’ll often find people talking about the place they live or have an interest in the place.

Find good lists – people on Twitter can create lists of people and will often give them a title that shows you what they have in common. You can go in to the list and follow people in the list. For example Monmouthshire Council has a ‘Monmouthshire businesses‘ list which would be great place for anyone to find local enterprises.

Twitter directories – Wefollow and Twellow are good directories that let you type in key words to find related people on Twitter.

Put your Twitter handle on promotion material/email signatures – and follow back those who follow you. Don’t follow spammers back (warning signs – scantily clad lady in profile picture, the tweeter is following loads but has no followers, or they have no tweets) but do follow back people who look real. You never know what interest they’ll have in your organisation. For instance we have a few ex-pats follow the Monmouthshire Council tweets but I wouldn’t know that if they hadn’t told us long after we followed each other.

Content – what to say?

Lurk – get on Twitter and look around. Other similar organisations will give you an idea how it can be done and the more you read what’s already out there, the better an idea you’ll have of how it all works.
What works for our Monmouthshire followers is events, news and facts – anything about life on Monmouthshire really. We seem to have a good response to blog posts that give personal views that contextualise council business. What works for your audience might be different. I work on the rule ‘would I be interested in this?’ If not, I scrap it.

Ask some questions – if you’re sitting there wondering what people want you to tweet, ask the people who are already following you. This is a new way to communicate where people can not only talk to you, they can tell you things you didn’t know before.

Have permanent searches on key topics – we use Hootsuite to look at tweets that mention Monmouthshire and the towns within it – there’s some gold in there that you can retweet and respond to that get you really engaged with and informed by the area you serve.


Hootsuite – just mentioned, it gives you a dashboard with all sorts of cool stuff. You can schedule tweets, attach photos and documents, create a report on your most clicked on links, all sorts. It’s online so you don’t need to download anything to your desktop and you can open your dashboard wherever you go whether you’re on your phone, your laptop or whatever – its all at your fingertips.

Birdbrain – I love Birdbrain on iPhone, recommended to me by a follower on Twitter – it shows me who followed and unfollowed me on each day, who’s retweeted each tweet and my favourite: who I’m following that isn’t following back. When you start getting geeky about Twitter, Birdbrain is brill.

Tweetlevel and other measurement tools – you’ll know things are going well once people start talking to you and word spreads that you’re providing information in an accessible and friendly. But it can be good when you’re starting out to see if you’re making some progress.

If you’re into measurement there are tonnes of free tools out there. Tweetlevel is good because it gives you an idea of how much you’re engaging and how much influence you have according to its algorithm. You can’t measure goodwill or any of the other important reactions people will have to your tweets but this is handy to see over a few months if your score is improving, if only to justify what you do to someone who doesn’t really get what this social media stuff is all about. Klout is a good one for this too and Public Sector Monitor.

Getting better at tweeting by learning

Hashtags – these are just like label for tweets and when you click on a hashtag, Twitter will bring up every tweet from around the world labelled with the same hashtag. I’m very interested in local government so when I look at the #localgov hashtag I am tapping into an up to date and diverse range of tweets by many people interested in the same thing as me. I reckon I’ve learned more about my job from the #localgov hashtag than I ever have from books and journals.

Blogs – you’ll find your own favourites but I recommend when you have a spare few minutes you take a look at these for inspiration

There are lots of other things you can do and hopefully in the comments here we might get a few more to add to the mix.


  1. JohnDellArmi

    Thanks for posting Hel. Have posted this in to the CIPD SE Wales Linkedin Group which I run as i thought it might encourage some of the members to start embracing social media, rather than see it as something which needs to be policed with policies.John

  2. Helen Reynolds

    Very kind of you to share this John – thank you!

  3. katehug

    Thank you for posting a link to my blog Helen – only found this when I noticed lots of traffic coming from this page, so it must be well read! Great post as usual 🙂

  4. Sian Sexton

    Thanks Helen – very helpful for a social media innocent like me!


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Hel Reynolds

Hel Reynolds

Author of this post

Hel is social media trainer and boss of Comms Creatives. She has been working in comms since 2005, and has been brushing up her expertise in social media for brands since the good old days of MySpace. She also draws the Comms Cartoons, and is usually attached to a mug of coffee.

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