Step by step guide for Museums getting started on Twitter

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Where to start with Twitter
Twitter is a ‘micro-blogging’ platform, a website where people share what they are doing with others by sending and receiving messages known as tweets.

What defines Twitter is the short format of these tweets, each message is limited to just 140 characters of text, making it quick and easy to update.

These messages are sent and received through the website Twitter.com or through third party applications which bring these tweets on to a computers desktop or a mobile phone.

Setting up your account
To use Twitter you have to join the website (though it is possible to browse the website without joining) selecting a username which you will be known by on the website. Twitter limits the length of usernames to 15 letters, so you may find that you have to abbreviate the name of your museum to fit within this limit.

Please note: I would recommend that those thinking of using Twitter for their Museum, first join as an individual to get to grips with how the website works.

Once you have filled out this information click ‘Create my account’, this will take you through two steps, the first asks if you want to check if any of your friends are on Twitter by checking for members against your Gmail, Yahoo or AOL address book. You can skip this step with the link at the bottom of the screen.

Next you will be offered twenty suggestions of people to follow, these are a mix of celebrities, bloggers and institutions and are unlikely to fit with your organisation, so I would suggest that you skip this step with the link at the bottom of the screen.

Once you have joined you will find yourself on your Twitter homepage, as you are new to the website this won’t yet contain much.

Clicking on ‘Settings’ on the menu in the top right will let you add a little information to your Twitter page, like a ‘One Line Bio’. As Twitter is primarily a person to person network, Twitter etiquette suggests that you should mention who is writing on behalf of the institution in your biography.

For example Brooklyn Museum’s biography reads:

‘We’re the Brooklyn Museum and happen to be one of the oldest and largest museums in the country. Who tweets on this page? Shelley B. is on deck.’

You should also add your Museums website address to your profile information, this sounds obvious, but you would be surprised by how many institutions have missed this vital information.

Location is another important category for a Museum, as this will make it easier for people searching for members in your area to find you.

As well as writing about your museum you can also show a picture both as an icon, which will appear next to everything you tweet, and as a background image which will appear in the background on your profile page.

The icon is 48 pixels x 48 pixels and most Museums use this to show a picture of the exterior of their building, this can be added in GIF, JPG or PNG format on the ‘Picture’ page found in the ‘Settings’ section.

You will need to use a photo editing piece of software like Photoshop to create this icon.

Your background image should be around 1200 pixels x 800 pixels, again this can be a GIF, JPG or PNG file. As the amount of information that you can write in your Twitter accounts biography is limited, many museums include more information in this background image. You can change your background image on the ‘Design’ page in the ‘Settings’ section.

If the colours in your background image don’t sit well with the default Twitter colour palette, it possible to alter this by clicking the ‘Change design colours’ button on the ‘Design’ page.

Whilst you are in your settings you might also want to alter the ‘Notices’ that you will receive from Twitter, the default setting is that you will be emailed every time that you receive a follower or a direct message, while this is exciting to recieve when you get your first few followers, you will soon get tired of it when you are receiving 30 notifications a day.

Getting started on Twitter
Now that your page is up and running, you are ready to start Tweeting. At the top of your Twitter homepage you will see a box that says ‘What’s happening?’

Type ‘is now on Twitter’ in to this box. You will notice that as you type, the number on the top right reduces, this shows the number of letters you have left to type. Click the ‘update’ button and post your first Tweet.

Your first tweet should appear under the text box. You will notice that it has your icon next to it, and starts with your username (which is why we didn’t type YourMuseum in the message)

Following
Now that you have set up your profile and posted your first Tweet, it is time to find someone to follow.

Twitter users see the messages or tweets that other users post on Twitter on their homepage, but only if they follow them. This is the way that most people will see what you write on Twitter.

You can find people to follow by using the ‘Find People’ button on the top menu. There are around 1000 museums on Twitter and it is a good idea to follow cultural organisations in your area.

When you go to another users Twitter homepage you will see a ‘follow’ button under their username and icon, click this to start following them.

Below this you will see a list of their tweets. Browse through these and as you hover your cursor over each Tweet, you will notice that a ‘Reply’ and a ‘Retweet’ button appear.

Select a message that interests you and click the Retweet button. This will rebroadcast this message to your network of followers. Retweeting is an important part of Twitter and it is common for people to Retweet things that interest them.

As well as sharing good information, content or links with your followers, retweeting also makes you more visible to the person or organisation who originally wrote the tweet and makes it more likely that they will follow you and retweet things that you write.

It is important not to retweet too much, stick to messages which you think will benefit your followers.

As well as following people or organisations which interest you (from an institutional point of view) you should also follow those who take the time to follow you, this is important as they will not be able to direct message you unless you do.

Reply
As well as retweeting messages, you can also reply or send a message to another Twitter user, either by clicking the reply button on their Twitter homepage or by using the @ symbol before their username in a Tweet.

A reply is posted publically on Twitter so if you prefer to keep the message private then you can use a direct message.

Direct Messages
A direct message is a private note, this conforms to the 140 characture format of a normal tweet, but is a way of privately corresponding with other Twitter members.

It is only possible to send a direct message to people who are following you.

Links in Twitter
If your linking to information about exhibitions or events, you are likely to want to use website addresses, but these are often to long when Tweets are limited to just 140 charactures.

The way around this is to use a URL shortening service like Bit.ly, this will not only allow you to shorten the length of website addresses, but also lets you track how many people are clicking on each link, which can be useful when measuring the benefits of using Twitter.

What’s a hashtag?
Twitter users use hastags (which look like this #) to link together messages about the same topic. The most common use for this is for events and conferences, however some Museums have started to give each exhibition a hashtag and promote this in promotional literature.

Writing
As well as engaging with other Twitter users, you will also post your own tweets. The amount that Museums do this differs from organisation to organisation, but I’d suggest that you aim for two tweets per day including weekends.

You can choose to either write your tweets on Twitter as you go, or to schedule them using a web based service like Hootsuite or Socialoomph.

Schedule
Between listening, conversations and writing your own tweets you can expect to spend between fifteen and twenty minutes per day managing your museums presence on Twitter.

This would be roughly split into ten minutes in the morning, five minutes at lunch time and five minutes at the end of the day.

Creating a Twitter editorial plan
A mistake that I see many Museums making is to use Twitter to broadcast events listings. Twitter is a great promotional tool, but nobody will follow you if all they are going to get is adverts.

An editorial plan is a good way to get the most out of Twitter, this will set out how much time you will spend on the social network, how often you will tweet and what you will tweet?

This plan should be set out like a weekly diary, with actions penciled in for each day.

How much time will Twitter take?
Twitter is the least time consuming social network and shouldn’t need more then 15 – 20 minutes per day. This will be broken in to a few different actions.

Listening
Firstly you should monitor what people are saying about your Museum, this can be done by either by using the search facility on Twitter or by using a desktop application like Tweetdeck.

When you find someone mentioning your Museum, you should reply to them as you think appropriate (Glad you enjoyed your visit, You should visit this weekend as we have a new exhibition).

As well as searching for people mentioning your Museum, you might also want to use Twitters geographical search facility to look for people in your area looking for something to do at the weekend.

Ideally you should monitor Twitter for mentions of your Museum two or three times a day.

What should a Museum tweet?
Museums need to think beyond using Twitter to announce their latest exhibition, or they will struggle to attract many followers.

An important part of your editorial plan should be not only how often you will use Twitter, but also what you will say in your tweets.

If you intend to post fourteen tweets on Twitter every week, then you need to break this down so that you know in advance what you will write for each day.

For example, every Monday you might post a photo of an object of picture from your collection using Twitpic and ask your
followers to guess what it is. This could be a regular feature for your organisation on Twitter.

Every Tuesday you could tweet about an important historic event which relates to your collection.

Every Wednesday you could link to pictures on Flickr or films on YouTube which have been created by visitors.

As well as these pillars of your editorial plan you should also tweet about things that are happening behind the scenes in your Museum, for example if you are fitting a new exhibition link to pictures of this on Flickr.

Many people who use Twitter on behalf of Museums tell me that they keep a notebook for idea’s and encourage their collegues to share idea’s with them.

You can find my previous blog post on writing more interesting Museum tweets here

What shouldn’t a Museum tweet?
Twitter is a person to person network, and it is important for the person speaking on behalf of your Museum to appear friendly and approachable.

Having said that you need to remember that you are writing on behalf of a Museum, not the best friend of those following your institution and they don’t need to hear about your holidays or social life.

Increasingly Museums are putting guidelines in place to help to control this relationship between the members of staff representing the institution on social networks and their audiences.

Attracting followers
Being interested in people who mention you on Twitter and following people in your area is one ways that you will attract followers on Twitter, but you also need to think about what you do outside of Twitter to tell people about your presence on Twitter.

Your website is the most obvious place to start, add a link to Twitter on your homepage or ask your web designers if they can make your twitter feed appear within your site. You can also signpost people to Twitter through your e-newsletter or Facebook page if you have one.

As well as directing people to Twitter from other places on the web, you should also consider including your Twitter username on the back of leaflets and having signs asking people to tell you about their visit via Twitter, some Museums are even giving each exhibition a hashtag.

Measuring success
What success looks like will differ from Museum to Museum, this shouldn’t just be how many people are following you, but should be about the level of engagement that you are able to achieve with the Twitter community.

– How much are people talking about your Museum?
– How many people have you @replied to?
– How many people have @replied to you?
– How much are you tweeting?
– How many people are clicking on your Twitter links?

You may also want to try and connect Twitter and the real world by having a special event or exhibition preview for your followers on Twitter, how many people will show up?

Conclusion
Twitter is a great tool for Museums to build communities around their brands online, it is easy to use and costs nothing but your time. If you haven’t tried Twitter yet, why not join today and give it a go?