Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

Presidential Campaign Holds a Twitter Town Hall

Lessons in social media
Occasional Q&A sessions are a great way to do this. Get the conversation rolling with your followers by answering any questions they may have about your paper, or in your client’s case, questions about their brand.

On June 14, campaign strategist David Axelrod held a Twitter town hall on the @BarackObama Twitter page following the President’s economic speech in Ohio. This is certainly not the first attempt at a Twitter town hall Q&A forum, but Mashable made the argument that it was the best effort to date. Although President Obama’s Twitter page is far from the average account (it has over 6.5 million followers), there are still lessons that can be learned from this social media event. As a newspaper ad department, it’s important to establish a strong Twitter presence for your newspaper, but you can also relay this advice to your advertisers. Occasional Q&A sessions are a great way to do this. Get the conversation rolling with your followers by answering any questions they may have about your paper, or in your client’s case, questions about their brand. Below we have expanded on five of these lessons that you could take with you when doing Q&A sessions on Twitter.

1. Create hashtags to filter content and categorize conversation topics.

Axelrod succeeded in creating a controlled environment and dialogue for this particular Twitter town hall. He prefaced the conversation by tweeting that the town hall was about to begin and to follow all questions with the hashtag, #Obama2012. Twitter users who saw this tweet could go to the President’s Twitter page to watch the town hall in real-time rather than clicking on the hashtag where they could get lost amidst unrelated and diverging conversations.

2. Create a coherent conversation by retweeting questions and then responding.

The second success of the Twitter town hall was how Axelrod constructed a clear and coherent dialogue that was, for the most part, easy to follow. He made sure to retweet questions first, so they could appear in their entirety and create a context for his responses. He also made sure his responses were public to all of their followers by putting a period in front of the username he was responding to, looking something like this: “.@TwitterHandle Axelrod’s response.” Twitter makes it so tweets starting with a mentioned user are only seen by other users who follow both Twitter users that are involved in the conversation in order to keep timelines clean and clutter-free. However, that would mean Axelrod’s responses would have gone unseen by many of the @BarackObama followers. By placing a period before the mentioned user, they assured that the Q&A was seen by all of their followers.

3. Respond to questions of substance, not just because a user has a certain number of followers.

Mashable also argued that one of the triumphs of the town hall was that Axelrod did not distinguish between users, saying he replied to “the eggs.” Eggs are Twitter users that have not uploaded a profile picture to replace the default egg icon. Although these users may not use Twitter all that frequently or have all that significant of a followership, this did not determine Twitter’s reaction to their questions or the corresponding answers. In fact, the responses to one of the questions from an “egg” user garnered some of the most retweets during the town hall.

4. Keep conversations quick, but make sure you’re not sending out annoying Twitter blasts every minute on the minute.

Finally, Axelrod kept the pace of the conversation quick — almost 30 questions and answers in 30 minutes. This is important, because users following the town hall could have easily become disinterested if the conversation was not moving quickly enough. However, it’s also important to note that constantly blasting tweets and retweets every minute is not always a positive thing. If done too frequently, you will most likely annoy your followers by cluttering their timelines.

5. Make sure to hit the reply button so other users can follow the conversation.

However, the town hall did not go without drawbacks. Axelrod made the mistake of manually typing in the mentioned user he was responding to, rather than hitting the reply button. The reply button provides a key function on Twitter, allowing users to click on a tweet and see the conversation that preceded that particular tweet.

So, when preparing to build a social media strategy, whether it is for your newspaper or one of your advertiser’s, make sure to take these lessons into account. Creating clear, controlled and timely conversations on Twitter is crucial in building a following, and consequently sustaining relationships with those followers. Q&A sessions on Twitter also help get these dialogues started, but they also build a connection between brands and their customers. Twitter offers ad departments and their advertisers the invaluable opportunity to be accessible to their clients at a moment’s notice. Make sure you know everything you need to when using these new, but valuable social media resources.