Hosting Successful Federal Twitter Chats

One way to leverage Twitter, beyond the basics of sending messages and engaging in dialogue, is to organize a Town Hall discussion, or Twitter chat.

New guidance on preparing a live chat is now available, and we need your agencies to contribute your own policies and experiences to make it complete. So let’s start by identifying the key ingredients to most effectively engage with citizens and make your Twitter Town Hall a success.

A Twitter chat is when agencies invite engagement for a scheduled time period during which users can ask questions or find out more information about a topic via Twitter, much like a webinar, but the anchoring component is a pre-designated hashtag (#). The agency then responds to questions using the hashtag, follows-up with a blog post, or uses another digital means of meaningfully responding to the engagements.

The most important steps you can take in organizing a Twitter Town Hall chat are to:

  • Set clear expectations for engagement. As in any use of Social Media by government, it is important to clearly define what the expectations and policies of engagement are. Focusing in on one or a set of topics can be more beneficial to the public, as they have a clearer expectation of what they will view for responses. Also, defining a topic, rather than leaving dialogue open-ended, helps allocate meaningful support staff.
  • Ensure efficient staff communication, roles and responsibilities. Every Twitter Town Hall needs at least a host, a dedicated policy specialist and a social media manager, but also consider having an official or unofficial co-host on hand to keep dialogue flowing and follow-up more in-depth on questions. However lean or stacked your support staff is this, make sure they are in constant verbal communication –- all eyes will be on Tweets, and any other critical messages may fall through the cracks.
  • Follow-up on engagements. Is the purpose of your town hall to end on time, or is it to answer questions from the public? Clearly define where and when all related questions will be answered, like the FAFSA team does in their blog – and remember to always follow through.
  • Monitor and report performance. This may not be your first Twitter Town Hall but it certainly won’t be your last engagement with citizens. Be sure to thoroughly measure and report the performance of the event so you can improve your overall Social Media strategy’s effectiveness in improving citizen services and reducing costs.

For best practices, take a look at agencies including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Student Aid:

HUD started small by organizing a discussion on the Department’s Open Government progress, and applied what they learned for the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Twitter Townhall .

FAFSA is a leading example of following up on engagements and setting clear expectations, illustrated when they note “Can’t make the live session? A summary of #AskFAFSA Office Hours, including the full Q&A, will be posted on Storify and the ED.gov blog following the event.”

The Department of Health and Human Services HealthFinder.gov also has in-depth guidance on how to host a Twitter chat that many agencies have used to share their own guidance. Take a look and see what you can customize for your own agency from this fantastic resource.

The Department of Agriculture’s #AskUSDA Twitter chats are now a monthly feature of the agency, with diverse topic areas already successfully covered under their belt.

The White House conducted the most high-profile Twitter Town Hall so far, with the President personally answering questions.

Every Twitter Town Hall will be different, but if your agency looks at these key ingredients for success your team will be on its way to a citizen engagement success.

Also, don’ t hesitate to ask an agency that has already conducted a Twitter Town Hall to help out. An extra set of eyes from someone who has already been there is always a good thing.

What are best practices in government you see for Twitter chats? Lets us know in the comment section to help build our guidance for agencies.

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