Digging Into Twitter

General Assembly 2014 Event 408

This was part of the #UUsGetSocial series of workshops

Program Description

Proven methods to help both individuals and congregations promote Unitarian Universalist (UU) values, UU social action, and UU identity online. Straightforward tips on Twitter


SPEAKER 1: Reverend Doctor Andy Pakula.


REV DR. ANDY PAKULA: Hi. First of all, I have a confession to make, which is that doctor part, that's in biology. So don't think I actually know anything about what I'm talking about. The Reverend's part real.

I also want to say I live in England and England is a very different place. So some of what you'll see is context dependent. I say things on Twitter that are particular to a country that is effectively a secular country. As you know, the rest of the developed world is not like the United States. And 5% of the population in the United Kingdom attend religious services with any regularity. 5% versus about 10 times that here. So it's a different world.

Confession time. How many of you actually have Twitter accounts? Quite a few. How many of you have ever tweeted? How many have tweeted in the past two weeks? How many of you use hashtags? How many of you retweet?

OK, great. So I have some idea. And how many of you have never been on Twitter in your life? OK. Fantastic.

No, that's great. And I will be a little bit too basic for some of you who are the experts. And I will be a lot too fast for some of you who've never done it. So, forgive me all of you, because it will all be wrong.

What can Twitter do for your congregation? Twitter—and I'm glad to piggy back on a lot of what Joanne said—Joanna—because this is about evangelism outreach. I would say there are two things that I use Twitter for. One is outreach, that is reaching people who are not yet or never will be maybe Unitarians or Unitarian Universalists. And the other is social justice. How do we get our word out there about the way things should be in the world?

This is my Twitter profile. Everybody on Twitter has a profile. Make your Twitter profile interesting.

Now, mine says—and I don't know if you can read it—but it says an atheist minister. I believe in good, not God. Now I know that for a Unitarian Universalist audience, we would say we want to be more inclusive than that. I'm not reaching for Unitarian Universalist audience. I'm reaching for the people who haven't found us yet.

And in a country where only 5% of the population has any interest in church, I want to signal we are something different. So we also have a congregational account. This is my personal account. Congregational account would be more inclusive looking. This is meant so that when I follow somebody, they will see my profile, and they will say oh, it's a minister. But oh, wow, that's interesting. And they might actually look. So that's important.

I have 29,000 followers. And I'll talk about how—


Yeah, Woo. And I'll talk about how that happens and it's not as impressive as you might think.

Tweeting. What's the limit? 140 characters. That's all you get. Which if you have been subjected to vast amounts of talking, which some Unitarian Universalists are really good at because we are very wordy, there's something really refreshing about being limited to 140 characters.

And it's like a haiku, right? You have your very stuck in a particular form and that gives you a lot of power. So you have 140 characters. Other than that it's like a blog. It's really tiny and you could put in links. You could put in images by putting in links to images. And everything Joanna said about images in Facebook is true for Twitter.

It's images are important, images get seen. And you can use hashtags, which I will talk about hashtags are effectively keywords that help people to find what you're saying or help you to find what somebody else is saying that's relevant to you.

This is the most important thing in everything we do. And it goes for social media and everything else. Who are we trying to talk to and why? Why are we here? What is our purpose?

If we don't know our purpose, and we don't know who we're trying to talk to, don't bother. Right? It's all about knowing who you're trying to reach and why you're trying to reach them. Are you trying to change their minds? Are you trying to intrigue them enough to come and visit you? Are you trying to interest them in Unitarian Universalism? Are you trying to get them to see a different side of the same sex marriage story? Know what you're trying to do and know who you're trying to say it to.

Now, Twitter stuff. In Twitter everyone, when you follow someone, everything that they tweet shows up in your stream. Now when you have—when you're only following two people, you have a very nice tidy, quiet stream. And these things move and they will move very slowly. When you're following 22,000 people—it's a fire hose and you can't see anything. OK?

Same goes for people who follow you. If there are following a million people they will never see things in their raw stream. If they're following only a few people and they follow you they will definitely see what you're saying. So that is the reality. And a lot of what you have to do as a Twitter strategy is figure out, OK, how are we going to make sure that they actually can see us?

There's a jumble of words out there. A gazillion words. The average Twitter user, I think, is following 200 people. And so they're seeing roughly 1,000 tweets a day. What is going to get them to see what you say? And that's key.

So there are two key challenges in Twitter. Just two because I'm not Trinitarian or else I'd have three. I should only have one. Actually, because I'm a non-theist I should have zero. There are no things important about Twitter.

No, there's two challenges. And this is true whether you're putting out a newspaper, whether your running a congregation and want people to notice you, whatever it is. First you have to get people to notice and second you have to get them to engage.

So you can have a fantastic service in your congregation, but if nobody ever shows up to the door, then nothing's going to happen. And you can have lots of people showing to the door and then if there's nothing good there, guess what? They're not staying.

So same thing. You can have a huge distribution on your newspaper and if the content is terrible, there's no point. Great content, no distribution, also no point. So we've got those two challenges.

So how do you get your tweets seen? And the first thing is get more followers. The second thing is get other people to share—what's in Facebook is called share, in Twitter is called retweet, same thing. Get other people to rebroadcast what you've said. Which means that their followers will then see it. So that expands, magnifiers, potentially hugely the sorts of things that get out there.

And the second and the third is—see, now I am Trinitarian—that is hash tag yourself. Use hashtags, which provide ways that people can find you. And I'm going to talk about each of those a little bit more.

How do you do get people to engage? Right, so you you've got them to follow you. They're occasionally seeing your tweets. How will they—why would they be interested? I mean, you know how many people are on Twitter now? A billion. And there's something like 200 million who use it regularly.

How are they going to see you? You're a little congregation in wherever. Why would they want to pay attention to your tweets? And you could say very nice things. Have a nice day, isn't it beautiful. You've got to be interesting. There's got to be some reason that people want to—they say, oh, that person's got something really interesting to say. I'm going to make sure that I watch them.

And there's lots of tools in Twitter so that you can choose particular people that you want to watch. And I'm not going to go through all the kinds of tools. It's suggest one of the best resources for learning about any of these technologies at a basic level is just go to YouTube. And say, help me with Twitter. Basic Twitter, basic Facebook, hashtags, any of those things. 10 people have done great videos on them. Some of them are Peter Boden. Maybe 5 of them are Peter Boden.

Anyway, be interesting, people will watch you. Being watched is important. Be helpful.

Can you imagine how to be helpful on Twitter? It's much like the way you can be helpful in the real world. When somebody needs something, when somebody's expressing a need, you point them to a resource. Isn't that what we do?

I mean, none of us are expert fixing everything, but we tell them hey you might want to find this. Or you two might want to talk to each other. You can introduce people on Twitter, you can help people.

And be human. Twitter is not a newspaper. People will engage with you if you come across as human. If you come across as an institution, if you come across as a corporation, they might look for what's useful, but they're not going to engage with you in that way.

Don't be deadly serious. Humor is really, really good. Humor gets you retweeted. Humor makes it real. Humor is a fantastic thing to do. Be engaged, be in conversation with people. Find things that people say that are interesting. Reply to them, retweet their things. If you retweet other people, they tend to start looking at you.

And, Atheists minister, be controversial. One of the laws of public relations in general—there are five Cs and I will not remember all five of them—but one is controversy. People follow controversy. They want to see controversy. Niceness is great, but it doesn't necessarily interest people. Controversy is good.

A couple of very specific strategies. How do you get followers? You get followers to a great extent by following other people. I mean, it helps to be super famous. If you're the pope, the pope didn't have trouble getting a lot of followers as soon as you got on Twitter.

But for the rest of us, follow people. If they don't follow back you can unfollow them, but follow people. And follow people who are relevant. Don't just follow random you can search find everyone whose mentioned same sex marriage in a positive way and follow them. And if they follow back, that's great, you've got a relationship and potentially conversation. If they don't follow back, that's great, unfollow them. That's fine.

Find people who are talking about what you're interested in. Again, find people who are talking about same sex marriage, find people who are talking about humanism, find people we're talking about process theology, whatever it is. Something that you're engaged with, find people that are doing that. Follow them, tweet to them, retweet them, engage with them. Have conversations.

Something that's important for all social media, and all kind of presentation in general, your website, everything you say, you should have a consistent voice. That is, you shouldn't be one day looking edgy, the next day very conservative. If you are not consistent people get confused and they kind of drift away.

And finally, be a resource. And again, if you are an expert in something, anything, present yourself as an expert. That attracts people and, at least in that niche, they are interested.

Hashtags. OK so, hashtags are these things with a pound sign. Which in the UK is called a hash, which I find useful. And here it's sometimes called a hash, but do people actually called it a hash? No, you don't even know that a pound sign is called a hash. Number sign? Is that what it's called? Number sign. I forget because I've lived in the UK for eight years.

So hashtags are key words. They are useful because people will look for them. What's a hashtag you've—has anybody seen hashtags? Do you have some hashtags in mind? What? YesAllWomen fantastic, right. Another is use GetSocial.

A hashtag is something that people will look for. And if you are someone who's interested in the Yes All Women campaign, you'll be searching for people who are doing YesAllWomen. And you'll start to connect to people who are participating in that stream of conversation.

Making your own hashtags is not so good. And it's not so good because hashtags are only useful if someone else is using them. If no one else is using them, they're meaningless. It's like putting out an address that doesn't exist. Now if you have a vast staff of people who can put out lots of tweet or you are Apple computers or Justin Bieber, you can create your own hashtags and that's not a problem. I don't recommend it for other people unless you really have the resources.

What you want in hashtags is something that more than a few people use. If I make up a hashtag and its AndySmart, I might like it, but no one else is looking for it. No one else will find it because they have to be looking for it. If I had 100 people putting out lots of things under AndySmart, well then maybe.

You also don't want to use a hashtag that is too broad that everybody's using. If I put out a tweet and I put human as the hashtag it doesn't give you any specificity. And there may be a billion people looking for—they're not going to focus in on that at all.

Don't use hashtags that aren't relevant to what you're talking about. That's spam. If you are tweeting about your congregation and you think, aha, I'm going to use this because it's really hot and all those people—they're going to see you and think you're a spammer.

Does that make sense? See what I'm saying? If you use a phony hashtag, and you're just trying to get publicity with it, you look inauthentic.

This I mentioned about being a resource other people. And this isn't something that I hadn't really considered much. And believe me, I do not do Twitter perfectly. But being a resource the same way you can be in human life in the real world is incredibly powerful. That's what helps to connect you to people.

I'm going to talk about my wife for a second. My wife is an executive in the non-religious world. And she is very deliberate about always doing things for people without asking for anything in return. Particularly connecting people, making introductions, giving people resources, and it's almost magical. And she doesn't do it because anything will come back for her. She's not a believer in the prosperity gospel, but you know what? It always comes back.

Everybody seeks her out. Everybody wants to do things with her. When we are giving in that way—and what could be more religious? What could be more Unitarian Universalist then going on to Twitter and helping people?

So if you're worried about this notion of evangelism, we're just trying to get them in, we're just trying to get numbers, just go out there and help people in social media. It makes a big difference. There would be a hashtag to that.

I'm almost done. I'm just going to mention a couple of tools. Everybody has favorite Twitter tools. There's a gazillion and if you search best Twitter tools you'll find a whole bunch of reviews that list best Twitter tools. I just want tell you the cool ones and I'm using at the moment.

It's very helpful to have a program for looking at your tweets. For those of you who are new to Twitter, that may not make sense, but you need to organize tweets. Remember that single stream where everything's zipping by? That's not enough. So something like TweetDeck or Hootsuite. And remember you'll get all these slides on digitally if you want them.

But something like those. They give you the ability to make columns of different users or columns by searches. And then you can go, oh OK, I'm just going to look over here. Here are my London tweets. And here are my same sex marriage tweets. And here's my tweets where anybody mentions Unitarian. And here's my tweets, my column of tweets, of people that I've put on a list of people I want to watch. That kind of thing.

So you have all these columns, makes your life a whole lot easier. You can also schedule tweets to happen at different times. Which is great because you want tweets to go out not when you happen to have time, but when you think they'll be most effective. OK so that's TweetDeck and Hootsuite.

Buffer is another one that's solely about finding stuff and scheduling it to go out at a particular time. It's a good tool. I'm just mentioning it, I'm not going to talk a lot about it.

ManageFlitter. I don't know a lot of people who use it, but it is one of the most useful things that I know of. And they want money for it, but it is really, really useful. It is a great tool for finding people you're interested in, following people, unfollowing people. You can find everybody. It'll show you everybody you're following who isn't following back whose tweeted.

There's all these criterias so that I can say, OK. Show me everybody who I'm following, who isn't following back, who's tweeted less than 20 times in the past month and lives in Ireland. Great, fantastic. And then I can do whatever I want. I can block, I can unfollow. Great tool.

Finding the right hashtags. These are two tools that I found recently. And the image there is from a tool called hashtagify. Of course, we've run out of normal words, so we have to make up words, right? Hashtagify is this really cool thing.

That red dot in the center is the hashtag UU. So I put that in and then it tells me in those circles every hashtag that's related to the hashtag UU. And the size of the circle indicates how frequently it is used. And I can't read any of the ones that are there. But as I recall, the largest one—and maybe you understand this, I don't—but the largest hashtag related to UU is hot.

Uh, wow. OK. I mean that's not a bad thing. OK RiteTag is a different kind of tool, but it also helps you find hashtags. You want relevant hashtags.

Search for people. This is not a tool tool, but search. Use search. Always use search to find the people who were talking about the stuff you want to engage about.

And follow followers. If you want to find people are interesting, find people who are following other people that you're interested in. You might want to follow some of the people who are following the Dalai Lama or following Peter Morales or what have you. But follow followers.

OK, summary. Why is the first question. Why are you doing this? Know why you're doing this, don't start unless you know why.

Once you know why, who do you want to talk to? You're not out there trying to tell everybody everything or you're telling nobody anything. You have to know who you're talking to.

You have to have people notice you, followers, and you have to be able to engage with them. Have a voice, a consistent voice, and be interesting. Be engaging. Be human. Be helpful.

Thank you.

Slides and Resources