I’m writing this blog with trepidation, as I’m very aware that I’m not a Twitter expert, and the @MRCCTU account is tiny in comparison with others. A couple of months ago there was some discussion on the WonkComms LinkedIn group about using a staff rota for managing organisational twitter accounts. I mentioned that it was something that we do at the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit (MRC CTU), and people seemed keen to hear more about how it works.
MRC CTU have been tweeting for just over a year now. As an organisation we do not have a team responsible for communications. Communication activities tend to be something people do on top of their ‘day job’. So when we were thinking about how to manage our twitter account, it made sense to involve people from different parts of the unit.
Who is involved?
The Twitter team consists of 4-5 volunteers, with some turnover as people change jobs. These volunteers come from different research themes in the unit (cancer, infections, methodology), and have different roles (administrator, data manager, trial manager, statistician). Not everyone on the team had used Twitter prior to getting involved. The main qualification for joining the team is enthusiasm for communicating our work to the rest of the world. A certain amount of curiosity about what is happening in the unit helps as well.
How does it work?
We have a rota, so each member of the team takes it in turns to be in charge of the account for a week at a time. We have a Twitter Strategy that provides guidance on the sorts of things that we tweet, frequency and how we monitor it. This makes sure everyone’s clear on what is expected. We also have a shared inbox, so we can all access alerts about mentions, retweets and new followers. Other people in the unit email that address to suggest topics for tweets.
The most important tool we use is a spreadsheet, stored on a shared drive, which we use to plan future tweet topics, and record the tweets we have tweeted, the number of retweets and replies.
When a new tweeter starts, for the first week or two they are on the rota they email me draft tweet wording, so I can check it makes sense and is suitable. Once they’ve got used to it, they no longer need to check every tweet with me, and only check if they have any queries.
Occasionally the team get together to look at how it’s going, and come up with ideas for how to improve.
How is it going?
So far, I am pleased with how it has gone. Having people involved who sit in different parts of the building, work on different teams and chat to different people means we get to hear about (and tweet) things we would not otherwise get to hear about. It also helps others in the unit see Twitter as something that is relevant to them.
Having 4-5 people involved spreads the workload, which is particularly important as it is not part of anyone’s job description.
The ‘light touch’ oversight we use does bring an element of risk, and not every tweet is exactly how I would do it. But we have never tweeted anything that would damage our reputation. I think it is a small risk for us, as the people working for us generally do so because they believe the work we do is important.
Even if we had a team of communications professionals who could take on managing the Twitter account, I think for our organisation the benefits of involving people from different parts of the unit far outweigh the risks.
- When recruiting volunteers, focus on people who have enthusiasm for communicating your organisation’s work, and have good networks within your organisation, rather than those with the most Twitter experience
- Have clear guidelines
- Once you’ve found your people, and have your guidelines, you need to let go – provide support when requested, but don’t seek to control
- Encourage all staff to suggest tweet topics – a dedicated email address for suggestions, and occasional reminders in the staff newsletter both help
- A shared tool (eg. a spreadsheet) to plan future tweet topics can make it seem less daunting than having to think up new topics every day