If you’re running an event or conference, why not set up a Twitter account for it? You may of course already have a Twitter account for your firm or brand – so why set up a separate feed? True, it can be more work to update and maintain several accounts, and you might also argue that it dilutes your brand to separate an event you’re running from your main account. But it can also work in your favour, as people who are attending the event can “follow” it, not only because it’s an easy way for them to receive updates on it but also to show their support and interest. Here are my suggestions for things you can do to build an effective event Twitter feed. (Several of these points also apply to any kind of commercial Twitter feed/brand.)
1) Choose a good username as close as possible to the name of the event you’re running. In fact, when you’re planning your event, try to think of a name for it (or a version of the name) that is catchy and Twitter-friendly. ScienceWeekUK springs to mind – you know immediately that it’s about science, it lasts a week and it’s in the UK. Remember Twitter usernames are limited to 15 characters. Try not to use acronyms unless they’re memorable – NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was invented in 1999, way before Twitter.
2) For your picture, use your event logo. Again, when first designing your logo, try to pick something that’s going to stand out not only when it’s on a huge banner outside your venue but also when it’s displaying as a mere 24×24 pixels (the size of the user pictures on a follower’s Twitter feed page). Look at other users’ pictures – you’ll find it surprising how distinctive many of them remain even in those dimensions. If you can’t manage that, find one element of your logo that people will associate with your event/brand/firm. Avoid using long text in your picture – words longer than around five letters will display in a font too small to read in 24×24.
3) Edit your design colours to match the branding of your event, or of your company. Avoid whacky colour combinations; yellow text on a pink background may make you “stand out” but people do want to actually be able to read what you have to say. You may argue that colours don’t matter since your tweets will end up in your followers’ chosen colour schemes on their own home page or Twitter client, but remember you’re trying to attract followers in the first place, and if the first thing they see about you is some garish feed page they can’t read they’ll go elsewhere. You don’t have to use a Twitter standard background image: instead design a skyscraper banner with the key details of your event (logo, title, strapline/slogan, venue, dates, web address) to be 100 pixels wide and 768 pixels tall (for best results use a regular 768×100 horizontal banner turned 90 degrees counter-clockwise). This will mean those details will always be visible to the vast majority of web users in the left sidebar of your Twitter home page regardless of users’ screen resolution. Although most people do have wider screens now than they did a few years ago, many users who may be interested in your feed are still viewing in 1024×768, so using a larger banner risks it being obscured behind your actual Twitter updates and the bottom cut off. Finally, don’t tile your banner! It’ll look horrible!
4) If you don’t already know, use Twitter’s search and “find people” features to see whether any of your event sponsors/partners are already tweeting, and follow them. Drop a line to your contact at the sponsor and let them know you have a Twitter feed, to be sure they follow you in return.
5) Also do a search for keywords and hashtags related to your event and follow users who tweet those keywords frequently, or who are running similar companies or events of their own. Listen to what those users have to say, especially about events they are attending which are similar to yours. One user who followed an event Twitter I was involved with complained about the venue being difficult to navigate; bear that sort of feedback in mind during your planning/research stage and be prepared to address those kinds of public comments – doing so will enhance the bond between you and your delegates/customers/audience; not doing so will alienate you from them.
6) A key question – what are you actually going to tweet? What is there to say about your event, apart from the fact that it’s happening at Great Yarmouth Town Hall next Tuesday afternoon? Plenty! Has a date or venue changed? Tweet it. Registration deadline looming? Tweet it (several times). Earlybird or other concessions available? Tweet them. Great new speaker come on board? Tweet their name and other events they’ve spoken at. New sponsor? Tweet it (that’ll keep the sponsor happy too). Press coverage? Tweet a link to the online article. (You will of course be wanting to update your website with most of these things, but when an update doesn’t necessitate a major announcement on your site, a tweet usefully fills that gap.) Obviously you’ll want to tweet when the event is about to happen – only a week to go! Three days! Two! It starts tomorrow!!! During the event itself (if you have time) you can be tweeting live about today’s programme, what sessions are available, feedback from ground level. After the event has happened you can tweet links to reports by yourself and others, or when conference proceedings or video presentations are available. No actual news for the moment? Break down the facts about your event into bite-sized chunks (programme, location, purpose, dates) and tweet each one as a standalone update, promoting or highlighting whatever aspects of the event you want to at any given time.
7) Having said that, as with all Twitter feeds, don’t over- or under-tweet. Tweeting is always a fine balance – too many updates and users become swamped and stop following you; too few and they won’t be encouraged to follow you in the first place as you have nothing to say. Users tend to be less keen to follow people who don’t tweet regularly (the average is 4 tweets a day, but even one a day is better than none, or 20). Frequency and number of tweets is one of the main criteria, along with content itself, that people use when deciding whether to follow someone for the first time.
8) No time to tweet? Get a free account with SocialOomph (formerly TweetLater) which allows you to schedule tweets in advance, so instead of having to find time to tweet something every day you can sit down for 20 minutes on Monday morning and line up a whole week’s worth of tweets, then sit back and get on with your work. You can also save tweets as templates with this system so you can repeat the same tweet or variations on a theme without having to retype them. Try not to tweet exactly the same thing all the time though, as that also turns users off. Remember that you should still tweet anything manually that comes up unexpectedly in real time e.g. venue/speaker/date change.
9) When tweeting, if you can’t contrive an update to contain a keyword you want to get across in order to catch the attention of your audience, add it at the end as a hashtag – these are keywords preceded by # e.g. #sustainability #climate #design – these automatically turn into links that when clicked, become a set of search results matching the hashtag. Hashtags and keywords get picked up by users who are generally interested in these topics and so may take an interest in your event, and not only attend but also re-tweet your tweets, which is a major way of circulating info about your event/brand.
10) As much as possible include a link in each tweet to a page on your website that expands on what the tweet says. If you’ve followed my tips in point 6, you will be updating your website with any actual news, so each tweet consists of a summary of that update with a link to the relevant page. Links take up a lot of room in tweets so you’ll need to shorten them; use a client such as Echofon (formerly Twitterfox) to automatically truncate long links, otherwise you’ll find you have to manually paste URLs in to a service such as TinyURL to get the shortened version. Or, if your website puts out an RSS feed, you can save yourself time on both tweeting and linking by signing up with Twitterfeed and having it broadcast each update from the RSS feed as an individual tweet – so that updating your site automatically generates a tweet, which in turn contains a link back to the item you just updated. If your site doesn’t put out an RSS feed, look into developing a blog with something like WordPress or, if you don’t like content management systems, simply email your content to Posterous which you can easily configure to “autopost” to Twitter, Facebook and your regular blog.
11) And finally, having said all of that, don’t even think of setting up a Twitter account for your event (or your company, come to that) if you can’t (a) get your head around at least some of the above or (b) devote the time to tweeting (or setting up an automatic feed as in points 8 and 10). Many Twitter accounts start off with great intentions only to fizzle out when the user finds he or she hasn’t got the time to maintain it. Having a Twitter account with hardly any followers or tweets can weaken your brand; worst of all, if you haven’t got time to listen to what your followers (and even people who are not followers) are saying about you, you won’t know if they are criticising it – in which case you should be replying publicly to address their concerns – or praising it, in which case you should be replying publicly to thank them!