Five lessons from five years on Twitter

January 22, 2015

Back in 2009, far more of our clients were on Facebook than Twitter. Then, as now, Facebook was the network favored by internet users, aka the General Public (check out Pew’s latest study to see how the two measure up in terms of traffic. Spoiler alert: Facebook still crushes it).

But we have never been believers in targeting the general public. We like Twitter because it reaches two very important audiences: reporters and elected officials.

A 2009 study found that 47% of journalists were using Twitter in their reporting. The 2011 #SocialCongress report found that 42% of Congressional staffers regarded Twitter as an important resource for tracking constituent opinions. According to a recent Congressional Management Foundation poll, it takes just one to 30 tweets (or other social media comments) on an issue to grab electeds’ attention.

We saw an opportunity to create issue-focused Twitter feeds that were brand agnostic (to borrow a term often used by our friends at Upwell), focused on sharing timely and high quality information with reporters, elected officials, allies in the field, and activists. In 2009, we launched @climaechangeUS and @thePacificOcean. We have since launched @toxicalgaenews, @RMenergytracker and @womenatcenter.

While we don’t conceal our connection to these handles, it is the issues that are front and center, not our brand. And that is critical. A recent study from Forrester found that tweets from “top brands” reach just 2% of their followers, and generated just .07% engagement.

Fortunately, in our experience engagement can be much higher in the issue communications space. The genius of the Twitterverse is that users can use tools like Hootsuite and TweetDeck to filter and organize the firehose of content. That means ocean reporters and advocates can zoom in on content related to #sealevelrise, #oceantrash, #hopespots, or any other specific interest area.

@climatechangeUS, recently passed the 10,000 follower mark, and @ThePacificOcean isn’t far behind. Here are five lessons from five years of issue tweets:

  1. Quality over quantity: We only tweet an average of once per day at @climatechangeUS, and 1.5 times per day at @thepacificocean. But both accounts are growing by 1-2% each month, and reaching upwards of 25,000 people with a single tweet (thanks to dozens of retweets from our community)
  2. Live tweet big news: We launched @climatechangeUS so we could live tweet a White House meeting on climate change, and have used @thePacificOcean to tweet everything from a bike rally in San Francisco to California Fish and Game Commission meetings. These events often result in great new relationships and huge jumps in reach.
  3. Use hashtags judiciously: Research by Buddy Media found that tweets with one or two hashtags get twice the engagement as those with none. But if you go overboard, engagement drops. Find out what hashtags are trending on your topics with a free tool like
  4. Get visual: Twitter now shows photos in the tweet stream. Tweets with images get five times more engagement. And you aren’t limited to photos. Twitter is a great place for those memes (tips for creating good ones here).
  5. Give good content: I can’t emphasize this enough. If your tweets are fresh and interesting, people will want to share them.

Nicole Lampe