What being on Twitter for five years has taught me

It is exactly five years today since I started Tweeting. The image below shows my first Tweet:

Through Twitter I have discovered a whole world of internal communicators, made some fantastic friends, worked with some outstanding clients and developed my own thinking and discovered ways to share it with others.

Tube LinesCasting my mind back to 23 January 2009, I was working in-house as a Senior Internal Communications Manager in the railway (for Tube Lines, which is now part of Transport for London), full time.

I was also studying the Internal Communication Management post-graduate diploma at Kingston University, London.

I’m pictured at Camden Town station in London at 3am in January 2009, while talking with employees on site.

I had just started to research the use of social media for internal communication, because I had a feeling it was about to be an important area for communicators to understand, so decided to write my final assignment on the topic.

Five years on, that’s absolutely the case. (I’m aware what a big understatement that is!).

Twitter has played an important role in furthering my understanding, and providing a way to crowdsource ideas, connect people and discover new ways of working and communicating.

Short history of Twitter
Twitter was created in March 2006  by Jack DorseyEvan WilliamsBiz Stone and Noah Glass, and launched in July that year. Its use is embedded into the way organisations do business and the way the world communicates. To date, 170 billion tweets have been sent.

When I joined, Twitter was all over the news because the Hudson/plane incident had happened a week earlier.

I often get asked by comms pros “is it too late to join Twitter?” – and my answer is no, absolutely not.

My advice is not to get hung up on follower numbers or feeling like you have to catch up, but to explore, experiment and join conversations, feel your way and determine what works for you. I’ll share some links at the foot of this article with some further advice.

My second Tweet was:

Looking at my first Tweets, they are a stream of consciousness, about studying and also about being the press spokesperson on behalf of close family at that point in time, as they were in the news.

Observations from my style then – most Tweets started with the word ‘is’ and there was an abundance of kisses (x) on them!

CsabaThe first person I @ directly was Csaba Szücs, an internal communicator who at that time was working for a manufacturing organisation, Denso, in Hungary.

We were both researching similar dissertations at that time and shared countless Tweets and emails with each other because we were both searching for content.

He then wrote for my blog when he moved to Vodafone, and we’re still in touch today. He’s on Twitter @CsabaSzucs and now works for Citibank in Hungary as an Employee Engagement and Communications specialist.

(Want to know what your first Tweets were? You can download your archive in the settings function via twitter.com).

New name
I changed my Twitter handle from @rachallen (my maiden name) when I got married at the end of 2010, to @AllthingsIC, which continues to be the one I use today, and is now the name of my consultancy.

I work in internal communication because it fascinates me, and thoroughly enjoy meeting with comms teams and employees to talk through all things comms and social media. Only last week I ran a fifth social media training session for Heathrow Express in London for its customer service team.

Heathrow Express, @HeathrowExpress, is a non-franchised, non-subsidised private company which owns its own trains, the stations at Heathrow airport, and the entire below-ground section of the line between London Paddington and the airport, carrying an average of 16,000 passengers a day.

Over the past few months I’ve coached groups of their employees from frontline workers to the CEO, to give them a chance to explore Twitter, ask questions, practice crisis scenarios and make smart decisions.

What Twitter has taught me:

  • There is a whole world of internal communicators out there (see @theICcrowd network I co-created in 2012 to discover hundreds).
  • Whatever query you have, someone, somewhere will be searching for the same information as you.
  • Use hashtags sparingly. They are a great filtering system when used effectively. I recommend #internalcomms, #ciprsm, #PR, #comms, #culturevist #responsiveorg.
  • Twitter is a fantastic way to connect you with people, topics and ideas you would perhaps not have discovered without it
  • The more you put into it, the better your experience. I know there are lots of “lurkers” who simply read and don’t contribute – there’s no right or wrong way to use Twitter, but for me, actively participating works well.
  • You cannot control what people say about you. You can control how you react and respond.
  • There will always be trolls. But blocking and spam reporting functions exist for a reason.
  • Having overseen the Twitter feeds for various organisations, including my local branch of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) during my maternity leave, I’ve seen how it can play a vital role in connecting people with potentially life-saving or life-changing information. (If you’re a new parent, the #nightfeed conversations in the small hours are a great way of meeting other sleep deprived parents!).
  • You cannot beat face-to-face communication. It’s enjoyable meeting people in real life you’ve only communicated with online and helps cement your relationship.
  • The majority of my clients are people that I have ‘met’ via Twitter and then met in real life, as a result of shared ideas and interests.
  • There will always be cat pictures.

What does using Twitter mean for you? How has it enhanced your career or changed your thinking?

I Tweeted I was writing this article and received the following thoughts back from people in my network:

I’ve written about Twitter numerous times since 2009 via my blog. Here are two of the most popular articles I’ve created:

A guide to Twitter for internal comms pros
How to use Twitter’s new emergency comms tool, Twitter Alerts

What does using Twitter mean to you? What difference has it made to the way you communicate? I’m interested to know your thoughts.

You can of course Tweet me @AllthingsIC or comment below.

2016 update: P.s. You can also now find me @AllthingsICjobs

Post author: Rachel Miller

First published 23 January 2014.

Updated 21 March 2016.

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