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Building Public Engagement Using “Twitter Townhalls”

Editor’s note: At AIDS.gov we dedicate time each week to listening and learning from our colleagues in the social media world. We are always looking to improve our use of Twitter given that we update our Twitter feed more than any of our other social media spaces.  Our colleagues regularly host Twitter Chats (PDF) and Townhalls as a way of bringing the public into health-related conversations. The Department of Education and CDC recently collaborated to conduct the Stop Bullying Townhall and identified  some best practices on how to engage the public.  Are there other best practices you have identified? Share your thoughts about this post in the comments.

Stop Bullying Town HallOn March 20, 2012 @StopBullyingGov Exit Disclaimer participated in its first Twitter Townhall hosted by the CDC and was joined in addition by the Anti-Defamation League. The “#VetoViolenceExit Disclaimer townhall on bullying was one of a series held by CDC on topic relating to youth violence. Widely promoted during the weeks prior, the chat attracted many users asking questions about bullying and attracted 207 visits to StopBullying.gov using dedicated campaign links.One of the challenges with social media in the federal government is how to interact directly with followers. Often, we have limited capacity to reply to direct questions. Holding events such as a twitter townhall, however, allows a set timeframe for followers to directly interact with government representatives.

During the chat, the dedicated hashtag was seen trending worldwide.  Engagement was high, with users asking questions using the hashtag, as well as users joining in on answering questions asked. In the preparations and throughout the chat itself, several best practices emerged in holding a Twitter Townhall:

  • Having both Federal and Non-Federal official participants is useful to be responsive to questions that may be beyond the government’s purview to respond.
  • Pre-preparing tweets is essential to responding quickly and accurately to inquiries. Using campaign tagged links to information on federal websites is especially helpful to understand the impact of the tweets.
  • When having multiple handles respond, it is critical to delineate topic responsibility and have as many of the tweeters gathered together in a central location or on a conference call to determine who will respond to what questions.
  • Allowing room for users to retweet is an important consideration in quickly crafting tweets
  • Not every question will be answered. Having multiple people viewing the twitter chat to help identify questions is especially useful with high levels of engagement.

We hope to repeat such engagement on our next Twitter Townhall, hosted by the Washington DC Office of Human Rights on October 5 at 3pm EST. That event, using hastag #BullyFreeDC Exit Disclaimer, will have @StopBullyingGov, @GLSEN, @PACERCenter, @TrevorProject, and @SafeSchoolsNow as official participants in the chat.

For more information on how HHS is coordinating social media projects and public engagement, visit the Working Better and People First sections of this site.

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