Twitter Guidance

Please Note

Disclaimer: This is EPA Guidance for how EPA uses Twitter. We have posted our guidance publicly in the spirit of collaboration. Other agencies and organizations may use social media differently.

Note: Remember that your official activities on-line are subject to the ethics regulations Intranet as well as other federal and agency laws, policies and regulations. In addition, existing policies and guidance for accessibility Intranetprivacyexternal site links, cookies, and writing style apply to social media tools as well. References to these are included at the end of this document.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an easy-to-use platform that allows EPA to engage the public in a quickly digestible format. It's free except for staff time. We should use Twitter because:

  • When followers "retweet," or repeat an EPA tweet, our message has the potential to spread far beyond our own followers
  • Twitter is easy to use on mobile devices, giving us a way to engage people who aren't using the Web
  • It's another channel beyond epa.gov where people gather, so we can reach a broader audience with our existing messages
  • In addition to manual tweets, Twitter can be used to send automated content to an audience that might not subscribe to agency mailing lists or RSS feeds
  • We can reach a specific audience or cover a narrow topic, like the Hudson River or emergency response
  • It gives us a chance to respond to discussions about us or our mission

Approval

Requests for Twitter accounts should be reviewed and approved by the Office of Web Communications (OWC) before you begin posting content. Read this entire document before you begin — you will need to complete the items in Appendix 1 to secure approvals. If you have questions about EPA's Twitter account, contact Jessica Orquina (orquina.jessica@epa.gov).

Get approval from:

  1. Your manager; and
  2. Your web council representative (see Web Council Members and Other Key Web Contacts); and
  3. OWC (your web council representative will get this for you).

If approved, set up your account as follows:

  • Username/URL: Follow the convention EPAxyz, where xyz is something specific to the content. "EPA" is capitalized and everything else is in lower case.
  • Name: this name appears in the profile. Use the name of the primary person who will be tweeting, followed by "EPA." For example: Jeffrey Levy, EPA Exit. Use an organizational name only with OWC's approval.
  • Picture: this is the graphic that shows up next to your tweets. Please use the EPA seal.
  • Background image: you may use any image you feel suitable to the content of your account, provided it is approved by your manager, your content coordinator, and the OWC.
  • Web site: provide the URL for the page on epa.gov that covers the same content
  • Bio: Identify the content you'll cover and the relevant part of EPA. Use "US Environmental Protection Agency." If this is a regional Twitter account, list the abbreviations of states covered by your region.

Note: We’re not creating new program-based Twitter account anymore. Instead, we recommend that offices work with OWC to have their messages posted on @EPAgov and other already established EPA Twitter accounts. Contact Jessica Orquina (orquina.jessica@epa.gov) for more information.

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Best Practices

Rules of engagement

Do

  • Have a plan for the sort of content you will post: Is it an automated feed? Will you manually tweet to supplement automated content? Will you tweet manually only?
  • The 140-character limit forces us to be pithy, clear and catchy. Have some fun and be personable with phrasing, but always in good taste. If in doubt whether your words may cross the line, ask a colleague for a second opinion.
  • Try to stay at least 10-20 characters below the 140-character limit — this facilitates retweeting (see below), which requires enough characters beyond the original tweet to include your @username (plus "RT" and a space, if they are manually retweeting you). It also allows for comment. Think "120 is the new 140."
  • Tweet at least daily.
  • Content is king: provide information, insight and clarification.
  • Don't procrastinate about whether to tweet. Timeliness matters.
  • Respond to questions, but stick to your area of expertise. People might ask you questions you can't answer; refer them to someone who can.
  • Respond to complaints if you can help someone, but avoid arguing with people trying to bait you (referred to as "trolls" on the Internet).
  • Reply and retweet — the more you engage, the more people will respect you. See the sections below for specific guidance.
  • Solicit tweet suggestions from others in your office who are knowledgeable about your subject.
  • Phrase questions so that they are open ended — ask for thoughts or ideas.
  • Link to more in-depth content, such as a webpage, podcast, news release, etc. Use GSA's go.usa.gov shortener for government URLs (.mil, .gov, .fed.us, and .si.edu). Use a URL shortener like bit.ly to keep the length down for non-government links.
  • Cover only one point and provide only one link per tweet. To get people to more comprehensive information, link to a page that then links to multiple pages.
  • Keep automatic posts to a minimum, but in some cases, fully automated accounts are valuable. Use twitterfeed.com Exit to establish those posts. Mention automation in your bio to tell people what to expect.
  • Tag topics of ongoing interest using a hashtag to allow for easy searching (e.g., #opengov). Use the same hashtag on all tweets related to specific outreach campaigns.
  • Check your spelling. You can't correct errors. You can delete a given post, but it will still appear in searches.

Don't

  • Don't tweet about things you wouldn't talk about under other circumstances (same as email: if you don't want to see it on the front page of the newspaper, don't tweet it)
  • Don't lobby, promote political viewpoints, or endorse commercial products
  • Don't argue, push personal opinions, or get into long-running debates.
  • Don't let your account languish.

Following other accounts

  • Follow EPA's main account, @epagov Exit
  • Establish criteria for what types of accounts you will follow in return. Definitely follow a number of other EPA accounts and related accounts from other agencies at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels. Beyond that, document your criteria to avoid charges of favoritism or endorsement.
  • You might follow only EPA accounts or government accounts that are relevant to your subject.
  • You might follow subject matter experts, or "thought leaders" on your topic — be selective in who you are following based on the content and value they provide.
  • You might follow every account that follows you, but this is not recommended. Be selective in who you are following based on the content and value they provide.
  • Review the accounts you follow from time to time. If no longer valuable, stop following. Keep a record of what you've decided and why.

Retweeting

  • Retweet (repost someone else's tweet) posts that are relevant to your subject, even from accounts outside EPA. Copy and paste the tweet into the Twitter update box, preceded by typing RT, (a space) (@sign) and the originator account name. For example:
    RT @chesapeakebayeo Agriculture-top pollution source-covers 25% of Bay watershed. Resources must be better targeted. http://bit.ly/moQxA
  • You can also use the retweet function built into Twitter. Keep in mind that you can't edit the tweet if you use this function.
  • If the retweet exceeds the 140-character limit, it's okay to slightly shorten the original tweet-providing you don't in any way changing its meaning.
  • If enough characters are available, you may include a short comment about the retweet by adding a dash at the end and typing your comment. For example:
    RT @sampletests Check out these env. test results http://example.com/test – especially note the data around cities
  • Don't claim a tweet as your own – if you're retweeting use the RT!

Replying

  • Public comments to you will begin with @[your account name]; you can find them by clicking on the right-side tab with your account name on your Twitter home page. Private comments to you will show up under your "direct messages" tab. You can reply either in public or privately.
  • For a public reply, begin your tweet with the @ sign and the account name you're replying to. For example: @CleanFishInc
  • You can send private replies only to people who follow you. Use the "Direct message" feature. Most tweets should be public, but send direct messages when sharing sensitive information like email addresses or phone numbers, or to follow up a private discussion. Access direct messages as a tab on your Twitter home page, or you can type "d" at the beginning of the update box, followed by the username without the @ sign and the message. Once you type d at the beginning, the words "Direct Reply" will appear. Make sure this appears to ensure it will go out as a direct message and not a regular update to the masses. For example:
    d levyj413 Can you email me more info? smith.john@epa.gov

Live tweeting

  • "Live tweeting" means covering an event via multiple, real-time tweets. It can be a powerful way to convey a sense of "being there." However, suddenly live tweeting on an account that usually only has daily posts can overwhelm your audience. Contact the OWC (owc@epa.gov) to discuss using the @epalive Exit account, which was established to provide a live tweeting capability for all of EPA.
  • You can also send photos of the event using various platforms that connect to your Twitter account.

Promoting and monitoring

  • Promote your Twitter account by including "Follow us on Twitter" links on your Web sites, your e-mail signature, other publications, and when speaking in public.
  • Monitor mentions of your Twitter account via the "@(account name)" feature on your Twitter home page. Reply as appropriate.
  • Use Twitter strategically in social media campaigns. Tweet interesting "wow" factor statistics that really paint a picture of the issue and link to more information.
  • Use TweetReach.com Exit to see how your tweet traveled and how many others retweeted.

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References

EPA Accounts

Ethics

EPA Policy

Guidance

Additional Resources

  • The Web Guide is the authoritative source for Web sites and applications at EPA.
  • The Social Media @ EPA blog provides answers to questions about social media at EPA.
  • The Information Collection Request Center Intranet describes information collection requirements imposed on the public by the EPA. 
  • Special Terms of Service Agreements have been negotiated with various social media sites that resolve the legal issues with the standard Terms of Service (TOS) users have to agree to when setting up an account.

Appendix 1: Account request

(see guidance for help determining these items)

  • Proposed account name (who will be listed under "Name" in the profile?)
  • Proposed account username/URL
  • Proposed account bio
  • Proposed Web site
  • Contact name/email/phone
  • Planned post frequency (should be at least once/day)
  • Content (will it be automated?)
  • Criteria for following others (there are different approaches; please justify why you're taking the approach you've chosen)
  • How will you promote your account beyond Twitter (URLs of Web pages you'll link from, other places you'll promote it, etc.)

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