Twitter - to RSS or Not RSS?

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It’s been a while since I first published my Beginners’ Guide to Twitter in Local Government, and since then (although, obviously not as a direct result of my blog post!) there’s been a plethora of local authorities using Twitter.

However, with a few notable exceptions, most councils seem to prefer the ‘fire and forget’ method of sticking an RSS feed into Twitterfeed and leaving it to run. Hell, even I was guilty of it up until recently - even though I was making an effort to monitor and engage, I was still letting the news articles automatically publish via Twitterfeed.

There’s been a bit of a discussion recently via Twitter as to the rights and wrongs of this, and I’m definitely in the ‘wrong’ camp now - A few months ago I turned off the RSS feed for @lichfield_dc press releases and now do them manually. Why? Well, I shall tell you…

You don’t talk to a robot

Twitter is, by and large, a social medium - if all you’re doing is chucking out press releases, people will assume you’re not interested in engaging or are just going to generate boring content. This means you aren’t going to get followed by as many people who might otherwise be interested in you.

Auto tweets look ugly

Take this press release for example. If I were to use an auto tweeter, here’s what it would look like:

News: Everyone is invited to get into the festive spirit at this year’s Christmas Fayre taking place in the city…

Pretty boring huh? Plus the content gets cut short and can often not make sense. However, if I conjour up a manual tweet, I can tailor it much more to the Twitter medium and come up with something a lot more friendly:

[tweet url=””]

This means you can get your message across much more easily and in a style that fits in with Twitter’s informal approach.

Stopping information overload

Sometimes you’ll have a press release which, while it might be relevant for the website, might not be suitbale for Twitter. If you’re blindly tweeting everything you put out, then people might be much more likely to be turned off by your content and reach for that big button marked ‘unfollow’.

This is all well and good, but…

…I can hear the objections already - ‘I don’t have time to write manual tweets’ - but how difficult it it to write a 140 character tweet? If you’re going to take online engagement seriously, it’s definitely worth just taking 2 minutes to show your followers you care.

If you really must use automated tweets, then make sure you mark your account up as such - call it something like ‘councilx_news’ and state very clearly that all you’re doing is publishing the latest news - then if further down the line you decide to engage a bit more, you can start another account for more human interaction.

I’m a massive hypocrite

However, after saying all this, I do agree that sometimes, automated tweets have their place. We do still tweet food safety inspections, and @ldcplanning has been happily tweeting planning applications for a while now. However, it’s not really practical to tweet large volume, samey tweets manually, and you don’t get the same advantages with tweeting press releases.

In fact, I recently did a straw poll amongst our followers about whether to get rid of the food safety tweets, especially as much of the content is replicated by @ratemyplace, but the majority seemed to like them. So maybe automated tweets isn’t as open and shut a case as I’d like it to be?