What It Is
As its name suggests, microblogging is writing extremely short blog posts, kind of like text messages. Twitter is currently the most popular microblog service and lets users post entries up to 140 characters long. Users can read these messages online or have them sent as a text message to a cell phone or other mobile device. More specific information about Twitter is available on the Twitter Best Practices page.
The popular social networking websites Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn also have a microblogging feature, called “status update.”
Microblogging is more than just random “short bursts of text,” it’s better characterized as short conversations where you listen to and share ideas.
Once you get going with a set of people you follow and people who follow you, it’s a never-ending conversation you can dip into when you want. The people you talk to can serve as a filter for the torrent of information online, giving you links to check out, sharing new ways of thinking, and offering responses to the questions you ask.
The best use for microblogging is to engage a community in a public forum. Some sites even let you reply to posts, and automatically bring replies to your posts to your attention. For example, on Twitter, you can reply to a post by typing the @ symbol followed immediately by the user name, a space, and then the message. Twitter replies appear on a special screen when a user logs in. For example, posting “@mblger I agree with your last point” will appear on the “replies” screen when the user “mblger” logs in. This is a useful feature—imagine using it to submit questions for a speaker during a live session. Tumblr offers a similar feature, the “Reblog” button.
You can also guide readers to your content by including hashtags (also known as microblogging funnels). When you see a pound sign followed by a word or string of characters in a microblog entry (#gov20, #govloop, etc.), the user is letting you know that the entry is referring to a specific topic. For instance, the hashtag #gov20 is used to identify microblogs that refer to the use and introduction of Web 2.0 activities in government. There are many hashtag directories where you can find content of interest. Meeting planners and event coordinators frequently recommend a hashtag for attendees so that microblog entries related to the event can be easily searched and retrieved.
Various sites help you track how people use information on microblogging sites. For example, Twitter Search and Twitterfall let you easily search for keywords used by people on Twitter, allowing you to see whether people are talking about your agency. These sites are not owned by Twitter.
Interested in doing something more? You can host a Twitter town hall where your customers are invited to ask questions on a topic and subject matter experts at your agency will answer using a pre-determined #hashtag for the event.
Use microblogging to learn about any subject of interest, bounce ideas off of people, and stay ahead of media inquiries.
Microblogging can help you get information to people without forcing them to come to your site. Sites that let you use an RSS feed to post are especially useful. Using RSS, you can post content in one place (for example, news releases) and the microblogging site will pick up automatically, posting it in your microblog.
Many microblogging sites let you change your account settings to let your messages be viewed by anyone, or by a restricted group that you choose. You can also block specific users if necessary. It may not pass a careful security review, but this is a way to create a quick, closed professional network where everyone can follow each others’ work.
Users of popular microblogging sites can “follow” other members to see an up-to-date list of recent posts when they log into the service. When you follow more than one user, the entries of all the users you follow are posted in chronological order.
Microblogging sites often work well on cell phones and other mobile devices, making it easy for you to deliver content that people would want on the road without building a site specifically for mobile devices.
Microblogging can be used to share announcements, news, special events like holiday hours, new products, updated resources, reminders, instructions, or to share answers to frequent questions.
Microblogging also can be very useful for issuing directions or warnings during emergencies. Some universities encourage students to follow an official school Twitter account so they can quickly broadcast a message to all students in the event of an emergency.
The character limits for various microblogging sites include text, spaces, and characters in URLs. Many users choose to replace long URLs with shorter versions so they have more space for personal comments (see Wikipedia’s list of URL redirectioning services).
The same legal issues that apply to most Terms of Service for using non-government sites also apply to microblogging.
The General Services Administration has determined that, as of May 2009, the standard Twitter Terms of Service are generally acceptable for federal government agencies. Nonetheless, agencies are encouraged to independently evaluate Twitter’s Terms of Service to ensure they are acceptable.
How to Implement
Begin by exploring microblogging sites to see how people use them.
Next, consult with your legal and communications offices to confirm you are allowed to create the account.
Choose a meaningful account name. Consider creating a different account for each different type of information you want to share (blog posts, news releases, program announcements, etc.).
Set up your account and check your user settings to be sure your posts are public or private as appropriate.
Type your message and press the button to publish it in your microblog.
To set up an automated feed like an RSS feed, follow the instructions on the site. Sometimes you have to set up an account on a different site. For example, to post an RSS feed on Twitter, you have to use Twitterfeed.com, which is not part of Twitter.
Be aware that you have to provide your user ID and password to use these third-party sites. Essentially, the other site logs–in as you. This carries potential security risks, so use only well-established services you can verify have not stolen identities and do not use the same password as you use for other purposes. Use a strong password and change it often.
Note: Microblogging is new enough that the tools and concepts are constantly evolving. The examples below are just a sample to help you learn the basics; these lists will always be outdated and incomplete. Use Google to find more information.
Dozens of government agencies and officials at all levels are using microblogs, and there are several lists.
Examples of inbound communications:
- People started talking about a major coal ash spill in December 2008, days before the mainstream media began discussing it.
Examples of outbound communications:
- Issuing of emergency alerts by the Los Angeles Fire Department
- EPA news releases and blog posts via RSS
- Twitter.com allows for posts of up to 140 characters in length to be uploaded and read online or through instant messaging or mobile devices via text messaging. Many guides exist; here’s one.
- Tumblr.com makes it possible to add tags to posts and to post videos
- Plurk.com utilizes a rich interface and horizontal timeline to add a spatial dimension to microblogging
Sites that allow you to put an RSS feed into a microblogging site:
- Twitterfeed.com (sends your RSS feed to Twitter.com)
Microblog search sites:
Go.USA.gov lets government employees create short .gov URLs from official government domains, such as .gov, .mil, .si.edu, or .fed.us URLs. Go.USA.gov registration is limited to people with .mil, .gov, .fed.us, and .si.edu email addresses.
Sites that shorten and track clicks on URLs you post (with only 140 characters, shortening long URLs is critical):
Sites that aggregate blogs:
- FriendFeed.com is a social aggregator that consolidates the updates from social websites such as blog entries, social bookmarking websites, and social networks. Individuals using multiple social websites can have a consolidated stream of details on all their activities across these websites.
Other microblogging tools:
- Back up Twitter is an article on various ways to backup your Twitter account.
- There is an ever-growing group to perform various tasks, like allowing you to send a post to multiple sites at once or letting you post from a cell phone without logging into a Web site. To get further information Search Google.
Most microblogging sites are limited to using the standard character sets, which inherently is accessible, especially if the microblogging site offers a mobile version of their tool. However, other software tools that interface with microblogging sites are not necessarily accessible.
- TwInbox is a plug-in that works with Microsoft Outlook.
- Twitterrific is reported to be accessible for MAC, iPhone, and iPod users.
- Syrinx is reported to be accessible for MAC users.