Twitter Guidelines & Best Practices
This document is designed to provide guidance to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) employees and contractors on the use of Twitter, the micro-blogging site in which CDC currently participates. CDC encourages the strategic use of Twitter to disseminate CDC health information and engage with individuals and partners.
Twitter is a real-time information network used by millions of individuals, organizations and businesses to share information, commentary, descriptions of events, and highlight online and social media content. Launched in July 2006, Twitter enables users to send and read messages made up of 280 characters or less, called tweets. Tweets can be posted to Twitter via text message, mobile websites, audio, Twitter’s website, or a variety of other mobile and web applications. Twitter has an estimated 200 million users generating more than 200 million tweets a day, and the service handles over 1.6 billion search queries per day. See Appendix A in the PDF for a list of commonly used Twitter terms.
CDC has a robust and growing Twitter presence. Currently, CDC supports more than 60 Twitter profiles connecting followers with information on a range of CDC health and safety topics.
Please refer to the CDC Enterprise Social Media Policy for guidance on use of social media for work-related and personal activities, and for requirements on use of social media in an official CDC spokesperson capacity.
Twitter and other social media tools are intended to be used as part of a larger, integrated health communications program or project developed under the leadership of the Associate Director of Communication Science (ADCS) in the Health Communication Science Office (HCSO) of CDC’s National Centers, Institutes, and Offices (CIOs).
- New Accounts: As per the CDC Enterprise Social Media Usage policy: All new Twitter accounts must be cleared by the program’s HCSO office. The Office of the Associate Director for Communication (OADC) must be notified at least 5 days prior to the launch of the profile. Security approval is required from the CDC Office of the Chief Information Security Officer (OCISO). Please contact your CIO’s Information Systems Security Officer (ISSO) for additional information on security requirements for participation in Twitter. A Privacy Impact Assessment must also be completed and signed by CDC’s Privacy Officer. Additionally, programs should ensure that their media relations specialist and the News Media Branch in the Division of News and Electronic Media are aware of the new account.
Careful consideration should always be given to the nature of Twitter messages and activities.
- All Twitter messaging and activities must be cleared through the clearance channels determined by a program’s HCSO office.
- Twitter accounts, including those associated with an expert’s name, are viewed as an official voice of CDC.
- Messages that are likely to draw widespread or media attention (e.g., new study shows 20% increase in disease); reflect a change in policy, recommendations, or guidelines (e.g., CDC expands coverage recommendation for ABC vaccine); or address a controversial topic may also need to be cleared through the program’s media relations specialist and the News Media Branch in the Division of News and Electronic Media.
- Tweeting standard health messages (e.g., exercise is good for you) should also go through a program’s communications clearance channels.
The Digital Media Branch (DMB) provides consultation on the planning and development of Twitter activities and other social media tools. Please contact email@example.com for assistance. Your CIO’s Social Media Council representative can also provide assistance.
Before using Twitter, programs should consider the following best practices:
- Clearly Define Your Objectives: It is important to have clearly defined objectives before participating in Twitter. Do you want to highlight content, spark action, or encourage awareness of an issue? Clearly defined objectives will help you to determine if Twitter can help you in meeting your larger communication goals.
- Know Your Target Audience(s): As with any communications activity, it is important to define your intended target audience(s) in order to develop and communicate messages that resonate with your audience and prompt them to take action.
- Determine Resource Needs: Determine if you have the appropriate staffing resources to create content and manage a Twitter profile. It is important to designate a channel manager to serve as the point of contact for Twitter activities and ensure that content is posted on a regular basis.
- Keep Your Content Short and Simple: Although the maximum character limit for a tweet is 280 characters, DMB recommends using 260 characters (including URL, punctuation and spaces) to make it easy for followers to retweet the message without having to edit it. It is appropriate to use abbreviations in a Twitter message in order to save characters. See Appendix B in the PDF for tweet examples and Appendix C for a list of common Twitter abbreviations. Shorten the URL using Websites such as http://tinyurl.com or http://is.gd. For Government URLs use http://go.usa.gov to shorten links. Visit https://go.usa.gov/ to register for an account.
- Determine Schedule and Frequency of Twitter Posts: It is important to set a posting schedule that defines a frequency for posts per week. Setting a regular schedule helps to ensure that the account is active and encourages engaged followers. Consider posting weekly at a minimum.
- Conduct Promotion Activities: Ongoing promotion of your Twitter profile is strongly recommended. Promotion tips include: Cross-promote on other CDC social media and Web channels. For example, leverage existing CDC Twitter profiles and Facebook pages with similar audiences and/or content to promote your Twitter activities. Consider Twitter advertising to increase the number of Twitter followers. It is recommended that you determine your budget, target audience, and objective before beginning a Twitter advertising initiative. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
- Determine Approach for Engaging with Twitter Followers: In addition to being a channel for health information dissemination, Twitter should also be used to engage your target audience in two-way interaction and communication. Examples of engagement activities include: Develop criteria for whom to follow on Twitter. Identify relevant partners, influencers, and federal, state and local agencies that are involved in and interested in your specific health topic(s). See Appendix D for recommendations. Share relevant partner and follower Twitter content on your Twitter profile. Develop a strategy for identifying and retweeting or replying to posts from partners and followers. Consider holding Twitter events. Twitter events encourage followers to participate in conversations about your priority health topics. See Appendix E for examples of Twitter events.
- Evaluation: Evaluation is an integral component of all social media activities, including Twitter. Evaluation approaches for Twitter may include reviewing metrics, identifying lessons learned, and determining whether the social media effort successfully met project goals. Regularly monitor your Twitter account to review the number of followers, updates, retweets and mentions in Twitter. You may also consider monitoring the increases in traffic to your website, as well as the mentions outside of Twitter on blogs, websites or articles. Examples of Twitter metrics that can be collected are number of retweets a post receives; number of click-throughs from a Twitter post to a CDC.gov Web page; and number of @replies.Adobe SiteCatalyst can be used to determine the number of click-throughs from a tweet to a CDC.gov website. Automated metrics reports can be established for programs. Please visit the statistics and metrics intranet site (link not available outside CDC network) for more information.
- Establish a Records Management System: Set-up a system to keep track of your Twitter posts, @replies, retweets and mentions to comply with Federal guidelines for records management and archiving.
Please email email@example.com if you require consultation, or contact your Social Media Council representative (link not available outside CDC network) for assistance.
- Develop and Clear Twitter Concept, Plan, and Content: All Twitter activities, including account set-up and content creation, must be cleared through your CIO’s established communications clearance channels.Security approval is also required from the CDC OCISO for new and existing Twitter accounts. Please contact your CIO’s ISSO for additional information on security requirements for participation in Twitter. A Privacy Impact Assessment must be completed and signed by CDC’s Privacy Officer.OADC is required to maintain a directory of all CDC social media channels and must be notified at least 5 days prior to the launch of the profile. To notify OADC, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The program’s media relations specialist and the News Media Branch in the Division of News and Electronic Media should also be made aware of the new account.
- Create the Twitter Profile: Set up a Twitter account at http://twitter.com.Twitter accounts require the following information for set-up: Profile name: The profile name is a unique identifier that describes the subject matter of the account, name of the organization, or contains a keyword describing the nature of the organization. Your Twitter profile should be identified as being an official CDC presence. If possible, start the name of the account with CDC (e.g. CDC_eHealth, CDCgov). The profile name should be short and concise (maximum 20 characters).
- Website: A CDC.gov URL should be included on the profile page as the official source of information.
- E-mail address: Identify a group or team mailbox that multiple team members can access.
- Bio: The biography is a 160-character description of the profile.
- Profile Image: A logo or image that represents your organization.
- Evaluate and Track Twitter Metrics: Establish a plan for monitoring and evaluating your Twitter presence. If you wish to use Adobe SiteCatalyst to track click-throughs, please visit the statistics and metrics intranet site (link not available outside CDC network) for more information.