What the White House Can Teach Us About Twitter
This July, the White House ascended into the Twittersphere when President Obama sent his first tweet. Since then, the White House has used Twitter to share its stance on the debt ceiling, the FAA contract, and the ongoing economic recession (er, recovery). And with the hash tag #whchat, White House representatives have consistently held “office hours,” responding to questions from other Twitter users.
Twitter has over 175 million registered users and The White House ( @whitehouse ) has over 2 million followers of its own. Tweeting is an efficient way to reach millions of Americans at once, to say the least.
If the White House can use Twitter to promote its positions on complicated issues like immigration and the credit downgrade, and even chime in on the President’s 50 th birthday bash, then surely you and your company can use it to promote your latest product launch.
To get the most return on investment, let’s examine some lessons we can learn and apply from the White House tweets.
1. Sometimes less really is more
For most of the summer, Americans have been bombarded with longwinded explanations of the debt ceiling crisis. We’ve heard about it from every news anchor, late-night talk show host, and street-corner politician. And despite the barrage of news stories tracking the debate—which increasingly sounded like a blacktop brawl between children in need of a nap—many of us were left confused when a compromise was finally signed into law.
White House tweets like this one were a welcome break from all the lengthy, brain-freezing explanations: “Debt ceiling increase pays for past bills. This new law also cuts future spending, brings down future debt.”
Follow suit with your own brand: use Twitter to emit concise information about your products and services, as a complement to the lengthier explanations you’ll provide on your website or in your print marketing materials.
2. It’s all about the lead-in
Of course, the information broadcasted by the White House does involve quite a bit of detail, and sometimes 140 characters can’t capture that. To make their tweet content richer, the White House employs rhetorical elements like transitions, framing, allusions, and other tactics you’ve forgotten from Freshman Composition.
For example, when asked whether minimum wage law discourages low-wage hiring, the White House responded, “Best data says no, min wage doesn’t deter low-wage hiring. My former coworker Alana Kruger makes case here: http://emlab.berkeley.edu/~card/papers/njmin-aer.pdf ” You can’t possibly make a compelling argument about minimum wages, living wages, and all the other issues related to this question in a single tweet—so the White House summarized and pointed to a more complete work from an industry expert.
You too can leverage Twitter this way: Point yours followers to press releases, media coverage of your company, or your company blog.
3. You gotta make ’em laugh
Though the #whchats are informative, they’re not always very entertaining. When one follower expressed boredom during a #wchat, Brian Deese, the President’s special assistant for economic policy, rickrolled him (and everyone else that dared to click on the link that followed their tweet, “…Fiscal policy is important, but can be dry sometimes. Here’s something more fun: tinyurl.com/y8ufsnp .”)
The White House’s rickroll of its 2 million followers was an instant media sensation, written up by The Washington Post, The Huffington Post , and CBS news within 24 hours. The practical joke humanized the people behind the White House Twitter account. It showed that our executive branch has a sense of humor, is in touch with pop-culture, can respond to criticism with grace.
The US Census also got some Twitter chuckles earlier this summer. When a follower asked “Was wondering if ur data shows a direct correlation in the increase of milk shakes vs. the increase of boys to the yard??” and @2011census responded “We can teach you, but we’d have to charge.” (Wow, US Census! If I’d known you were funny I would have opened my door when you knocked instead of closing all the blinds and standing very still.)
Even if your company specializes in something humorless, like nuclear energy or hedge funds, making your followers laugh is a great way to show the beating heart behind your brand.
Photos courtesy of Tom Lohdan and bokardo .
Rikki Rogers is a writer and marketer working outside of our nation’s capitol. When she’s not stuck in traffic, she enjoys writing poetry and running after her son. Since earning her BA from University of Virginia and her MFA from University of Utah, she's served in marketing and communication positions at a number of tech companies in the DC area. You can read more about her obsession with language and culture at www.rikkiwrites.com.More from this Author