Twitter Engagement: Some Lessons from


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two blue twitter birds, one handing the other a ring.  a visual pun on engagement

A couple of weeks ago I participated on a panel with our CDC colleagues Ann Aiken and Jessica Schindelar about Twitter monitoring, evaluation, and engagement at the CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media. During this panel I spoke about “engagement” on Twitter Exit  Disclaimer – providing different definitions of it and how we at work to engage our Twitter followers (and here are the slides Exit  Disclaimer).

When it comes to defining “Twitter engagement” there isn’t just one definition. There are many websites and software programs that evaluate “engagement” on Twitter such as Klout Exit  Disclaimer, Twitalyzer Exit  Disclaimer, Tweet Grade Exit  Disclaimer, Tweetlevel Exit  Disclaimer, and many others. Some sites look at how often your tweets are retweeted, others include how many times you are referenced, or how actively you participate within your community of followers. One that resonated with us was Jeremiah Owyang’s Exit  Disclaimer definition: “the level of authentic involvement, intensity, contribution, and ownership.”

While there isn’t consensus about the definition of Twitter engagement, we know that Twitter is a tool that allows you to connect with your audiences, whether it be through sharing information, retweeting, or participating in a dialogue. Certain activities, such as the recent National HIV Testing Day Twitter Town Hall are based on short, intense interactions with your community, while other activities, such as using Twitter to promote the National HIV/AIDS Strategy Exit  Disclaimer, evolve over time.

We’ve had a steady increase in Twitter followers, retweets and mentions since we started tweeting more than two years ago. In order to create and maintain our activities, we’ve integrated Twitter into our overall communications plan (PDF 574 KB). I asked members of the team for their advice about using Twitter to engage with our audiences. As I said during my presentation, “It takes a team flock”. Here’s what the flock had to say:

  • Be consistent. To engage on Twitter, it is important that you consistently tweet, retweet, listen, and learn. At we have made a commitment to tweet on a daily basis. We have systems in place to help keep us on track, such as our weekly internal team Twitter reports about how many new followers we have, what we tweeted, what was retweeted, and if possible, suggested tweets for the following week. We always try to anticipate what is coming in the week ahead. Clearly things happen that we can’t anticipate, but our weekly reports and projections are things we do to make sure that we are consistent. Make sure you allocate the necessary human resources to sustain a consistent level of activity, including tweets, retweets and responses. Twitter listening tools such as TweetDeck Exit  Disclaimer and HootSuite Exit  Disclaimer are also useful for managing tweets and monitoring who we follow.
  • Be timely and relevant. We’re a Federal portal for HIV/AIDS information and we know our audiences look to us for timely and relevant information. Early in the development of our Twitter strategy, we defined what topics we would tweet about, based on the information needs of our target audiences. We also assess what is being retweeted as one way to understand the information needs of our target audiences.
  • Make it personal. With over 40,000 Twitter followers, it’s difficult to have personal dialogues with each follower. But that doesn’t preclude us from getting to know some of our followers and colleagues via Twitter (direct messages and @mentions are one way to do this) or at conferences and Tweetups. Twitter is primarily a broadcast medium, but nothing is more exciting, more indicative of a genuine commitment to dialogue, and more conducive to building trust and relationships with target audiences, than occasionally responding directly to tweets by others, particularly questions asked.
  • Listen. Listen. Listen. Twitter is a great way to share information and engage in a dialogue. It’s also a fantastic listening tool. We make sure that we spend part of our time on Twitter listening to the conversation and learning from the people and organizations that we are following. In particular, we pay close attention to accounts with tweets relevant to HIV/AIDS and new media, including other Federal HHS Twitter accounts.
  • Make it known. Another important aspect of engaging in a dialogue is making sure people know you are there. At we promote our Twitter presence (as well as our Facebook Exit  Disclaimer, MySpace Exit  Disclaimer, Flickr Exit  Disclaimer, and YouTube Exit  Disclaimer accounts) on our website, business cards, and even our email signature. And if you’re using hashtags Exit  Disclaimer, make them known, too. Encouraging people to join the conversation increases the chances that they actually will. We used the hashtag #twanel during the presentation and were thrilled to have more than 200 tweets during the session
    (see an archive of the tweets Exit  Disclaimer).
  • Integrate new media: Make sure your Twitter feed and messages are integrated with all the other means you use to communicate with your audiences, and that they mutually reinforce one another. For example, questions on Twitter can form the basis for a FAQ item that appears on your website; on the other hand, you can tweet teasers for existing or updated content on your site, including a link to the appropriate page, and direct folks to resources they may not be aware of.

Those are some of our Twitter engagement lessons learned. What are yours?


  1. Hi,
    The twitter feed at the Vienna AIDS2010 conference was an excellent realtime form or reporting of what to see and attend, or read online afterwards. In advance of the conference, Hope Clinic (for whom I tweet) was able to use Twitter to identify tweeters and humans behind that profile and evaluate who to follow (you note the importance of personal amid the sea of tweets). A huge benefit of twitter has been accessibility to people with information – eg the Uganda ARV supply story – or to link the policy end to the real life implementers. An outcome of this has included a re-issue by IRINNews of an article on Uganda and the current MassiveGood case study example If there is a downside, the person tweeting may be entirely in the communications team and not a programme person. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Michelle and for another great post and your continued leadership to engage with us using new media.
    I would just underscore the importance of understanding your audience: who they are, where they’re from, why they follow you, who else they follow, what they care and tweet about, etc. Taking time to understand your Twitter following enables you to make informed decisions about all of the above mentioned strategies and tactics.
    What’s more, twitter is changing grassroots mobilizing as we know it. Gone are the days we alert people to email their member of Congress about an issue. With twitter, every tweet is an opportunity…an advocacy opportunity to educate about an important issue to you, advocate for a cause you care about, and alert media and influential bloggers about what you message. To the extent that you’re able, be sure to tag members of Congress (yes, most of them are on Twitter!), the media (reporters, bloggers, tweeps), the State Department (@StateDept), the White House (@WhiteHouse), or other influential targets to amplify your message and ensure your voice is being heard.
    Thank you again to all at for your service and passion.

  3. Carmen Gonzalez says:

    This post is spot on, Michelle. I’d add that it is important to reference the how some social media sites reflect different demographic groups. For example, African-Americans comprise 25% of Twitter users in the U.S., which makes it a great forum for outreach among that population for HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns. I hope you are targeting these new mediums strategically to get the greatest reach possible. Keep up the good work!

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