Panel reveals its Twitter tips to New York Chapter

By Linda Bloom, NYC Chapter President

A New York Chapter panel discussion on Twitter featured, from left, Ryan Koch, public affairs director for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Jaweed Kaleem, The Huffington Post's senior religion reporter; Teri Tynes, web and social media strategist for the General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Church; and Mat Tombers, a media executive formerly with Odyssey Networks. Photo by Leigh Rogers.

When the Presbyterian Church USA recently voted in favor of expanding the denomination’s definition of marriage, Jaweed Kaleem, The Huffington Post's senior religion reporter, was able to track exactly when the deciding votes were cast because he was monitoring a specific hashtag on Twitter.

It would be impossible for Kaleem to read everything in his Twitter feed – he follows nearly 3,000 accounts – but he keeps Twitter on “in the background” during the work day and checks his feed on his phone periodically. He keeps locked lists on Twitter, which only he can access, on people or topics to check for story development.

An information-gathering tool, a platform for action, a branding opportunity, a gossip meter – Twitter is a social media phenomenon that can be many things to many people. But how to best use it?

The New York Chapter of Religion Communicators Council posed that question to Kaleem and other members of a “So You Think You Can Tweet” panel during its March 18 meeting at Church World Service’s New York office, 475 Riverside Dr.

The panel was moderated by Mat Tombers, a media executive who advises his own clients on helpful Twitter practices. “One thing people sometimes don’t realize is Twitter often is a conversation, it’s a dialogue,” he says. “It can be a two-way street.”

Teri Tynes started tweeting to develop an audience for her personal blog. But as web and social media strategist for the General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Church, she has applied the same principles for her job. “A lot of people have used Twitter to enlarge audience and markets for an existing website or blog,” she explains.

If a local church starts following the mission agency’s Twitter feed, Tynes will follow them back – and maybe even start a conversation – finding it a good way to reinforce the connectional system that’s at the heart of The United Methodist Church.

Ryan Koch, public affairs director for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, notes that such interaction can build loyalty, too. “It’s not broadcast media, it’s social media,” he says. “If you’re responding to somebody or retweeting somebody, it means a lot.”

Even organizations can (and should) let a little personality show through their Twitter accounts.

When Koch handled social media for the U.S. State Department, he worked with some ambassadors on what they called the “candy and vegetables” approach. Vegetables were messages about policy and hard news and candy involved personal quips or comments. “The most successful Twitter feeds find that balance between candy and vegetables,” he says.

Other tips:

  • A number of websites and applications are available to help determine when you get the most engagement with your tweets. Kaleem points out. As a reader, there also are sites that allow you to see who is tweeting too much or not enough. But, he adds, “Don’t just follow random people to get a random follower.”

  • Retweets can be a turnoff, Tynes says. “There is a sense of overdoing it on Twitter. You have to hold back a bit and just have good timing.”

  • To encourage tweeting during an event, announce a hashtag in advance, but make sure no one else is using it for another purpose. And there is such a thing as hashtag fatigue, Koch confirms. “If you do too many hashtags in your tweet, you look like a teenage girl.”

  • Need more help? Type “Twitter tips” into Google, Tombers advises, and “you’ll get a whole list of great things to do with Twitter.”

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