A Twitter guide for internal comms pros

On Monday 3 September 2012 I launched @the ICcrowd alongside Jenni Wheller and Dana Leeson in the hope of bringing internal communicators together on Twitter.

twitterIt’s fair to say we’ve been delighted by the number of comms pros who have got in touch, started to follow @theICcrowd, and more importantly, have been tweeting each other and connecting. One thing that has struck me is the number of comms pros who appear to be new to Twitter, who haven’t been signed up for long and who are dipping a toe in the water – welcome!

So with that in mind, I thought I’d write some top tips for comms pros who are using Twitter for the first time, thinking of joining, or as a refresher for people who’ve been using it for a while. Is there anything I’ve missed? I feel like this post could be five times as long, so have just picked what I think are the salient points and linked through to another website, Mashable, which has lots of mini guides.

Do feel free to comment below to share your thoughts. You can find me on Twitter @AllthingsIC, Rachel

Getting started
Go to www.twitter.com and sign up with an email address. You will then be guided through how to set up your profile including….

Your Twitter ID
Choose a name that you’re happy to be associated with. You can have anything you like and change it at any time (e.g. I changed mine when I got married a few years ago from @rachallen to @AllthingsIC, plus my name). You may find your choice is decided by availability, you’ll notice that lots of people have numbers and underscores in their name as it’s not available without them.

You have two options: your user name, so mine is @AllthingsIC and your real name, so mine is Rachel Miller. Having your real name means people can find you if they search for it.

Your Twitter avatar
Avatar is the name given to your picture. My recommendation would be to have a photo of you that is clear, not blurry and is appropriate. Some people choose to reflect their personality through their photo, so wearing funny hats, posing with a drink etc. Decide whether you would be happy to see that photo published elsewhere. E.g. if you are a company spokesperson, this may be your personal Twitter account but there is always the possibility that image could be used by journalists, does it reflect the right image for your company?

A note for the ladies – if you are wearing a strapless top in your photo and the pic is cropped, you look topless – just saying! – but something to bear in mind as I’m sure you didn’t intend to put that impression across. This is also true for your LinkedIn profile pic.

Twitter2One of the most obvious signs that someone has just joined Twitter is if they have the ‘egg’ photo as their avatar (pictured). What does this say about you? Would you be happy for one of your leaders to be profiled on your intranet and have a stock image instead of their own face? Do take some time to put a photo of yourself on; you’re more likely to have people wanting to connect and communicate with you if they can see your smiling face.

Your background image
You can choose what background you have on your Twitter profile. There are lots of default images and colours you can choose, or you can upload your own.

Twitter headers
On 18 September 2012 Twitter announced that you can now have a ‘header’ image on profiles. Find out more including how to change yours.

Finding people to follow
Followers refers to people who choose to read what you’re writing, so you appear on their page of tweets when they log in to Twitter.

One of the most useful functions of Twitter is lists. People use these to group Twitter users together. For example @theICcrowd has created a list which features professional communicators. You can choose to follow lists by pressing the subscribe button, and will find a tailored feed of people all talking about comms. I’ve published other lists of comms pros to follow on my resources page.

I find hashtags one of the most useful functions of Twitter. They look like this # and are used to mark up content so you can cut through the noise and find what you’re looking for. Think of them like a filtering system.

I regularly use #internalcomms on my tweets. This means that if you use the search box on Twitter and type in #internalcomms you will see all the tweets that people have made and marked up with that hashtag.

Other hashtags I use and find useful are: #internalcomms #commschat #PR #Comms #ConnectingHR #CiprSM #corpcomms #socialmedia #connectchat #esn. Most of these are self explanatory but I will explain a couple.

#commschat – this is a weekly Twitter chat for comms professionals and is based out of the UK. It takes place at 8pm GMT on Mondays and you can join in by using the hashtag. Find out more about it here

#ConnectingHR – this is a social community for HR pros http://connectinghr.org/ and a way of marking content for HR professionals. The lines of comms and HR blur regularly and I find it useful to see what’s being tweeted here

#CiprSM this is the hashtag for the social media panel of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and is often used to mark up content which is of use to comms pros. I’m a member of the panel and include the hashtag on my tweets.

#connectchat is another Twitter chat, it’s US based and hosted by @GnightGracie

#esn stands for enterprise social network. You can read a description of it here and I find it useful to read tweets marked with it to help keep up-to-date.

Twitter has its own set of acronyms and ways of working. Try not to alienate people who are reading your messages by packing them full of acronyms or text speak. Approach Twitter in the same way you would any other communication by using clear, concise, jargon-free language.

Here are just a few of the acronyms and Twitter ways of working:

  • #FF: = Follow Friday and is used on, you’ve guessed it, Fridays when people want to recommend other people to follow on Twitter
  • RT = retweet. A retweet is when you repeat someone’s tweet in your timeline. There are two ways of doing this – by adding RT in front of your fresh tweet, or pressing the ‘retweet’ button
  • Tweet: this is your message. It is 140 characters long including spaces and punctuation. This is plenty – this explanation is 140 characters long.
  • @ when you put the ‘at’ symbol in front of your tweet it directs the message to someone specific. E.g. if I tweet ‘@theICcrowd this is my tweet to you’ it means @theICcrowd can see my message to them by clicking the @ symbol at the top of their screen (or in their inbox if they have notifications set up)
  • MT = modified tweet – it lets you know when the message has been edited before resharing
  • ICYMI  = in case you missed it
  • RTPT = refers to previous tweet
  • DM = direct message. You can send people direct messages (private messages) if you are following each other

You may have spotted full stops at the start of tweets. This is because when a tweet starts with @ you have to be following both people to see it. If the tweeter wants their @ reply to be more visible, they will start the message with a word (you’ll see ‘Hi @AllthingsIC for example’ or .@AllthingsIC then the message). You can still see all the tweets someone has sent by choosing the ‘tweets’ button on their profile, but if their tweets just start with a @ message to someone you don’t follow, it won’t show in your timeline).

Further reading: you can find indepth guides to Twitter on Mashable and also a dictionary of Twitter terms.

Update: February 2013: Twitter announced it has reduced some tweets to 117/118 characters due to a URL shortener. Full story here.

All Things IC
Your profile is a short biography of you, people often decide whether to follow each other based on what is written in their profile. What does yours say about you? It’s not set in stone – you can edit your profile and photo at any time to reflect what your current job status is for example. You can also link to any websites such as your blog if you have one or your LinkedIn profile.

If you are a company spokesperson, say this in your biog. Be clear whether views are written on behalf of your company or if they are your own.

Locked tweets
Updated November 2013: Had a great suggestion tweeted to me from @lmacstevens today who has asked me to remind readers that if you go to settings and tick the box under tweet privacy, you will in fact be tweeting to yourself.

Locking tweets means you have to grant people permission to follow you (similar to friending on Facebook). Therefore people can’t decide whether to follow you based on the content you’re sharing as they can’t in fact see it. Some people have very good reasons for wanting to keep their tweets private, but be aware you will be talking to a brick wall as no one will be able to see what you’re writing, to know whether to request to follow you and start having conversations.

Twitter is one of the quickest ways of gathering information, particularly when news is breaking. As with any story, you will need to check the source before quoting as fact, but it’s a great way to discover what is happening in real time. It’s also a fantastic search engine and will point you towards people, resources and information relating to your query.

I often thank people for retweeting my Tweets and sharing my articles because it feels like the right thing to do. It’s a way of showing your appreciation that they’ve taken the time to interact with your content. I often Tweet and tag people, unless there are too many and would flood my timeline, in which case I thank them as a group. I use direct messages (DMs) a lot too to have individual conversations with people to thank them and answer their specific queries (note – you need to both be following each other to have a private conversation).

What’s next… listen or tweet
Now you’ve set up your profile, don’t forget to Tweet! A recent statistic published in Share This: The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals book revealed that 80 per cent of Twitter users have tweeted fewer than 10 times and 40 per cent of users have never sent a single tweet.

Some people get a lot from Twitter by simply observing and listening. For them, this is enough and they enjoy that experience. However, my advice is that in order to make the most of the conversations, why not join in and help shape them. There’s no ‘right’ way to use Twitter, it’s entirely down to your personal choice whether you choose to tweet or not.

I hope you’ve found this guide a useful start or refresher on your Twitter journey. There are lots of other things I could have covered such as how to access Twitter using third-party sites, but for now, do check out the Mashable guides I’ve linked to above if you want to find out even more,


Post author: Rachel Miller

Further reading:
November 2013: How to use Twitter’s new emergency comms tool, Twitter Alerts.
The follow-up book to Share This: The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals is out now: Share This Too: More Social Media Solutions for PR Professionals
Glossary of internal communication 

How to use Twitter’s new tool for emergency communication – Twitter Alerts (2013):


First published September 2012 and updated numerous times since.

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