Module 11: Twitter Basics


Objective: To gain an understanding of how to set up an account on Twitter and the site’s basic functions.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

Twitter defined:

Twitter is a real-time information sharing network that allows users to send short messages (140 characters or less) known as tweets, that will immediately be distributed to their followers.  People can view tweets without having a Twitter account. Note: People can view your tweets even if they do NOT follow you by searching for key words you have used in your text or your user name (which is how I saw the tweets from my daughter after she blocked me on twitter–but that is another story).

The messages on Twitter can be aggregated for viewing based on key terms, symbols or words. Twitter users can only post 140 characters but a surprising amount of information can be contained in that short amount of space. Other facts:

  • People are not “friends” but are “followers”–the relationship does not have to be reciprocal.
  • Messages can be submitted directly from the microblog site like, through text messages, mobile websites or through a microblog management tool such as Tweetdeck.

TweetDeck: a social media dashboard that allows users to connect their Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, and other social media accounts. Users can create columns and groups that will allow them to save and organize searches, arrange their friends and followers to make them easier to follow, and schedule and post updates to their social media platforms.

Try this now

In order to view twitter, even without an account, try this exercise. Open a new window and go to!/search-home. Copy and paste this into the search bar:  #westernma
What did you see? When I search the term Western Massachusetts with the pound sign in front (called a hashtag) it is easy to find information about anything people are talking about in Western Massachusetts, as long as they include that term. A hashtag always precedes a term in a tweet to allow that subject to be more searchable. When searching #westernMA I found people posting content about the weather, local events, politicians (no comment), and more. Tweets posted on that hashtag reach about 21,000 people a day. See the statistics here on the service called TweetReach.

Here is one tweet I found. The content of this tweet is “live.” Click on the hyperlink and it will take you to the full story.

Pros and Challenges of using Twitter


  • Site works well on cell phones and other mobile devices, making it easy for your agency to deliver content to people who are not in front of a computer without having to build a site specifically for mobile devices.
  • The tools can be used to easily share content any organization needs to disseminate: announcements, news, special events like holiday hours, updated resources, reminders, instructions, or to share answers to frequent questions, either by including full text or a hyperlink.
  • News organizations monitor Twitter after a crisis.
  • The content on Twitter is highly searchable and can be easily sorted.
  • Since the tool is text and not voice based, it is popular with the younger deaf community and therefore makes it easier to reach this population with critical information.
  • This service also can be used for issuing directions or warnings during emergencies and is increasingly being used for this purpose.


  • There are a smaller number of subscribers to this format than others.
  • Being engaged on this platform can be time consuming for staff, especially if they want to learn the “language” of the platform.

Other Challenges: 

1. Security (how to mitigate concerns)

  • Staff should understand that if a tweet or post contains a link, they need to know where it came from before clicking on it.
  •  Links should be checked, especially those that have been shortened, before retweeting or reposting them.
  • Use a strong password and delete passwords for employees that leave their social media position.

2. Records Retention

There are many services that can be utilized in order to ensure that the conversations that you have on social networks (particularly information that is not publicly available on any other platform)  are archived.

  • Email: Twitter messages and exchanges can be delivered to an agency e-mail account; the emails can be tagged and saved for future reference.
  • Automated Service: There are automated services for records retention. Ask your IT personnel for assistance, but see tools like “Hootsuite Archives” or as example Some of these services have fees.

3. Computer Access and Processing Speed

  • The IT department will need to make sure that those assigned to use social networks have access to them on their desktop computers and mobile devices.

How to Get an Account

The International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends using this checklist when setting up an agency account:

  • Create your user name
  • Set a strong password
  • Insert a profile image (such as a logo—you could also use the head of the agency’s actual picture—this trend has become popular recently)
  • Enter the name of your agency
  • Enter the location of your agency
  • Enter your agency’s Web site address
  • Create a bio for your agency (you have 160 characters)
  • Enter a contact e-mail address
  • Set the background color or image
  • Register a mobile device
  • Place a link, badge, or widget for your Twitter account on your agency’s Web site—DONT FORGET THIS STEP!

If you do not know what Twitter is or how to sign up, take 3 minutes to view this video.

Your Turn



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