Recently, the Social Media and the Administrative Record discussion on Re:NEPA suggested that if a planner sets up a social media site/service for a project, then the comments from the social media site must be included in the Administrative Record (AR). Including comments from social media sites in the AR could be a time-consuming, thankless task—adding yet one more step to the already massive process of compiling an AR. But as Ryan Link states in the Social Media and the Administrative Record discussion on Re:NEPA, “As the use and availability of social media increases it no longer becomes an option but a requirement for effective public involvement in planning and transportation.”
Thankfully, there are a number of free, simple social media services available for planners, like Facebook, Ning or WordPress. Each of these services varies in the amount of time it takes to learn and set up. If you have decided to take the plunge and use a social media outlet as part of your public involvement plan, you can save a massive amount of time and headache by selecting the right social media service to do the job. Consider dipping your toe in the social media water with Twitter.
Twitter is a mini-blog service. It’s easy to get started, simple by design and quite popular. All Twitter posts, called tweets, are limited to 140 characters. Tweets are read by subscribers, called followers. According to this Compete blog post in February 2009, Twitter was the 3rd most popular social networking site after Facebook and MySpace based on number of monthly visits. Even President Obama is on Twitter here!
Here are a few tips and tricks for planners who want to use Twitter as part of their public outreach as well as an easy way to quickly incorporate tweets into the AR.
So what is Twitter?
If you’ve never tweeted before, Twitter might seem a little like Beanie Babies—cute but without substance. But people in your community are having real conversations on Twitter today. In fact, yesterday @david_smet tweeted that “With Facebook, your goal is to find your “friends.” With Twitter, you find new people to “follow”.” As a planner, Twitter offers a short, simple way to communication with people who are actively seeking interesting conversations. Talk about win-win. If the concept of Twitter is still fuzzy, check out the sub-3 minute video Twitter in Plain English.
How do you actually use Twitter?
The folks at Howcast have put together an excellent sub-4 minute video on How To Use Twitter. Following their step-by-step instructions, you can sign up for a free Twitter account and start tweeting about your project right now.
Easily include tweets in the AR by “Favoriting” them
Not all of your tweets or your follower’s tweets should appear in the AR. For example, you might tweet about “Traffic Congestion Costing U.S. $87.2 Billion a Year”—interesting to your tweeps and perhaps an important factor in your project’s purpose and need but not appropriate for the AR. So when you send tweets that are appropriate for the AR or when people mention your project or reply to your tweets, favorite those tweets. Here’s how to favorite tweets.
Connect with humans
So after you’ve created your account, sent your first tweet about your project and marked it as a favorite for inclusion into the AR, start following people in your area. Following other people let’s them know that you’re interested. Know that it’s good Twitter etiquette to follow people who are following you.
So where to start? To find government agencies on Twitter, check out GovTwit. Localtweeps offers zip code searching, so you can search for residents tweeting within the same zip code as your project. And consider searching for local politicians and elected officials in your area on Twitter on sites such as TweetCongress. If you want to search for people already talking about your project, you can search for your project by name using Twitter Search.
Back up your tweets
Currently, Twitter only lets you see your most recent 3,200 tweets. Consider using a free service such as www.backupmytweets.com to back up your tweets.
Ready to include your tweets into the AR?
Go to your Twitter account, and click on Favorites. You will have a list of tweets and replies ready to be included into the AR. Highlight these tweets, and right click to Copy. You can paste these Favorite tweets into Excel or Word for quick formatting. There are applications that can make this task easier, but that is a discussion for a different day.
Why Planners Should Use Twitter
So if you decide to use social media as part of your public outreach, check out Twitter, because Twitter is:
- Easy to Use,
- Limited to 140 characters, and
- The 3rd most popular social media service.
And using the steps above, you can easily incorporate tweets into the Administrative Record. There are dozens of other tips and tricks for Twitter. Let me know if you have any questions or want some help setting up a twitter account for your planning project.