Newly-elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his staff have a lot to do before he's sworn in. But there's one thing his staff should do sooner than later: create an official Twitter account, one that's different from the @RahmEmanuel account he used during his campaign. Who knows – now that the original @MayorEmanuel spoof account appears to have gone dark, perhaps the real Mayor can put it to official use?
Sure, Twitter is a useful tool when asking for votes, but it can be useful for elected officials when it comes to serving constituents and informing the public, too. Here are some Twitter tips I learned from my years working in online communications for U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Fred Thompson.
Get a New Official Account - Now
Yes, I know you have thousands of followers on the campaign account. Yes, I know dual accounts can divide your audience, but with confusing campaign finance laws it's a good practice to have separate accounts for campaign and official communications. Don't fight it, just do it and don't become the subject of negative story.
Another lesson you can take from Emanuel's campaign is to find a good Twitter name ASAP. Even if you don't know how you'll use the account you will at least prevent crafty opponents from snapping up your boss's name.
Separate the Official from the Personal and Political
Staffers already on Twitter should keep a clear distinction between official business tweets, political tweets, and personal tweets. Staffers can maintain their own personality, but they shouldn't tweet about fundraisers, campaign events, or helping other campaigns while on official office time or using office computers or mobile devices. Also, staff should assume any tweet could end up on the front page of The Huffington Post. A disclaimer saying "all opinions are my own" won't stop a reporter from writing a story. No one wants to lose a job because of an unwise tweet.
Don't Tweet as the Boss
Ideally your boss should tweet, but there will be some who simply won't do it. Don't create the illusion; there's enough cynicism in politics. You can still be interesting and get followers without the boss tweeting. If you plan to have a mix of boss and staff tweets, prevent confusion by labeling the tweets as being from staff. For example, Sen. Russ Feingold's campaign staff used "STAFF" as a label.
Use a URL-shortening service like bit.ly to track click-throughs. That way you can see what content is most interesting to your boss's followers. This gives you an instant focus group.
Push videos on Twitter. Mention Twitter in videos, on Facebook, and in e-mails to constituents. Have staffers put the boss's Twitter handle in his or her e-mail signature. Your audience is across multiple channels, so you need a multi-channel approach to reach them.
Tweet Interesting Stuff
Good, valuable content will get attention. As an elected official your boss has access to content no one else does. Take advantage of that exclusivity and become a valuable news source:
Tweet-out the Issues
Your boss got elected because he cared about a set of issues. Get him to tweet about what he successfully ran on. Did he run on jobs and the economy? Get your boss to tweet a series of posts on what should be done to grow the economy.
Is your boss pushing a bill? Take followers on the journey of it (hopefully) becoming law by mentioning committee hearings, committee markups, floor votes and conference committees. Few people really know how a bill becomes a law. Tell that story. Your followers will appreciate the civics lesson, and it might also get your boss some earned media.
Break Out of the Bubble and Start a Conversation
A powerful benefit of Twitter is connecting with constituents and breaking out of the bubble of the beltway, state capital, or city hall.
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Sean Hackbarth is senior campaign manager for CRAFT|Media/Digital, a cross-media political agency serving right-leaning candidates and organizations. He has published a political weblog, The American Mind (www.theamericanmind.com), since 1999 and has worked on online communications for Sen. Lamar Alexander and Fred Thompson.
March 19, 2014