Guidelines for managers of Twitter group accounts

Although it’s important to have an overall social media policy, sometimes business also need Twitter policies, for instance if there are smaller groups of people managing a Twitter account for a specific department, country, blog or any other group of people within the organization that need such an account. You might also want to read these tips if you (co-)manage a corporate Twitter account.

In an international organization, separate Twitter account can, for instance, be created by people serving a vertical market and thus wanting to reach people on Twitter that are active in this vertical. A Twitter ‘policy’ provides the team that (co-)manages the account (sharing content, engaging people, identifying interesting users, looking up accounts of people they know outside Twitter, responding, etc.) the necessary confidence to get out there, identify and carve out the micro-communities they seek and engage them. In practice, the demand to create such an account often is a bottom-up initiative from teams, countries, etc. that see what others are doing in the organization. That’s good but you need to watch over consistency, brand and having too many accounts with overlapping goals. So, sometimes it might be better that people join the team (co-)managing an existing account.

Before starting it’s important members of the team know the medium and use it (see further), have identified what their “target segments” of Twitter users find valuable, know and understand the overall social media policy, and have checked the branding guidelines (consistency) and what other teams (including corp) do with the Twitter accounts in the organization.

Note: the term ‘target segment’ might seem weird in the context of Twitter but it’s not: you go in with a goal and different segments of Twitter users in mind and segmentation happens in a mainly organic way (among others, by following people in those segments, the content you share, the places where you mention the account, etc.). To segment also use Twitter lists.

Start with defining the goals of the account (and avoid overlaps with accounts that might exist), identifying the members of the team, assigning roles, selecting a tool allowing task management and team possibilities and presenting the different members that manage the account to the Twittersphere if possible, for instance by using the Twitter background or highlighting the person managing the account that day or moment (not always possible).

People (co-)managing a Twitter group account may benefit from a higher level of social media training to learn insider tips on how to best communicate with the company’s particular audience.These tips could include handling comments properly, rules of engagement, timing and frequency of tweets, tone of voice and knowing when to direct message someone and when to publicly engage a customer or other industry peer in a public Twitter dialogue. Proper training can help establish a consistent style and tone of company tweets.

Aligning with the rest of the company

Make sure the team knows all the information sources and flows and where to get rapid response in case of questions, for instance by having a central social media team within your company or even a support and excellence team for all potential questions, if your organization has the means and depending on goals and expected output. Internal collaboration and most of all knowing where to go in case of questions is crucial. An internal FAQ, eg. on the intranet, is recommended. The exact structure of these lines of internal communication depends on the goal of the group account and the ‘target audience’. They must always include the content (re)sources and teams (calendar…), customer service and support, and the corporate social media team . Other departments might include legal, PR, etc.

A written “code of conduct” regarding Twitter for those in your company can clearly define the communication protocols on Twitter too, on top of the guidelines for group accounts. Note that a Twitter policy or code serves as a set of guidelines rather than a set of strict rules and is not the same as a social media policy. Finally, remember that many people will already use Twitter and that you don’t want to scare them by having exaggerated requirements in this code of conduct. Make sure every team that has a Twitter account, regardless of scope, receives the same training as the people managing the “bigger” Twitter accounts and that they know how the latter work and what their codes of conduct and guidelines are.

Involve: get input on the Twitter policy

Everyone is different, every vertical is different and every country or even target segment of Twitter users is different. Take this into account and start a dialogue with employees, (co-)managing Twitter accounts for groups, asking suggestions of things to address in a corporate code of conduct for using Twitter. Your people may have thoughts of topics to cover or have questions that also may be asked by others that you can answer with clear instruction in a guide.

They know their market and target groups. You need to involve them. Suffocating a group of people (co-)managing a Twitter group account with rules that don’t work, leads to nothing. It still has to be personal, real, fun and of course aligned with the goals to be served.

Balancing freedom with corporate responsibility

Employees with private accounts can benefit from guidelines on how to maintain their independence with their personal Twitter musings. A disclaimer in a person’s Twitter profile, for example, can help to isolate his or her thoughts from any official corporate statements. Not making any mention of the employer anywhere in the account also can be beneficial for the person to maintain a wall of separation with a personal account.

However, the bottom line is that all tweets enter the public domain and can be seen by more than just an account holder’s immediate friends. Screen captures mean that someone’s tweet can live forever online even after deletion, so it is wise to put some thought behind what goes up on Twitter as a matter of how personal representation in public in addition to anyone linking the tweet to an employer.

Establish accountability structure and boundaries

Provide some guidelines regarding accountability, that are easy and transparent enough and make your Twitter teams but also individual Twitter users within the business feel more at ease.

Relationship to company: Twitter accounts for the company and personal accounts held by employees are two distinctive elements that may follow the same public communication rules by the nature of the person’s employment. This line is becoming increasingly blurred. A personal account does not absolve the person of his or her responsibility in representing the company if a person’s account notes place of employment.

Relationship to audience: This aspect sets a framework for the level of transparency that is acceptable to give the audience timely updates without revealing trade secrets or other confidential material. You also can offer examples of an appropriate voice and tone to represent the company on Twitter. Also make sure your team knows what their audiences and the audiences of their audiences want, this is essential.

Relevance to format: This portion of the code can set basic outlines for the types of updates and tweets that are appropriate for the company, and which types of news and information should be relegated to direct contact by phone or email.

Respect for intellectual property: An explanation of what is fair use on the Internet when it comes to text and images posted can save you from legal trouble in the future.

Make the connection

Twitter is not an island. It’s connected with other channels and when you use it, it’s for reasons beyond the channel itself. Task management also includes cross-channel and cross-department elements. Don’t limit the training and tips to just Twitter. You want to know the people behind the profiles you’re connecting with and, vice versa, engage people you “know” outside of Twitter, on the micro-blogging platform.

Which connections are most interesting? Who will check that out and using with other (social) platforms? When do you alert someone when a specific person starts following, sharing, etc.? How do you complete the profile of existing customers with their Twitter profile? How do you make sure the different people involved in task and account management and in following up outside of Twitter complete their tasks? What time do you spend on these different tasks, as related to your goals? How do you use specific social signals on Twitter to improve what you do or take other actions?

And last but not least: how do you focus on listening to what the segments of users say, think and want and use this to be more valuable in everything you do? Twitter is not an exact science so listen, test, improve and make sure you have processes and guidelines to get everything out of that group account, make the team efforts worth the while and serve/identify the segments of users you wish to engage with your group accounts the best way you can. In a connected, personal and gratifying way.