Please note, in July 2023 Twitter was rebranded as X.
Twitter is a social media platform and is sometimes referred to as a microblogging platform due to the 280-character limit of a tweet. People use Twitter to follow and connect with colleagues, friends, interesting people, celebrities and organisations. It is popular due to its purposeful easy read design that enables you to view hundreds of tweets in a short space of time.
Many Twitter users also use the platform to keep up to date with politics, news and events and as an opportunity to speak to the world and see who responds. Much of the content is responsive, as users react to real-world events and each other. Popular Twitter accounts share useful information and interesting thoughts and ideas. You will find many relevant accounts by searching #ArchivesTwitter.
If you are using Twitter for the first time consider reading the following guide for beginners:
Museum Next – Tips to get your museum started with social media
If you are familiar with the platform but are interested in learning more before approaching storytelling on the platform, then this guide may provide useful insight:
Sprout Social – The ultimate social media for museums guide
If you are specifically looking to expand your understanding of Twitter’s features and navigation then take a look at this guide:
The Verge – Guide to Twitter
Across the Digital Engagement Toolkit, we are looking at who engages with a particular platform by generation. You will find more detail on this within the platform finder. When looking at audience engagement by generation it is important to keep in mind it is not definitive of everyone’s behaviour. However, understanding the broad trend of a generation’s approach to a platform is useful to understand the audiences you are most likely to find there. For the purposes of this toolkit, we are using terminology that defines audiences with the following demographic terminology: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z.
Gen Y are the highest percentage of Twitter users but they are far from the only users of the platform. You will also discover Gen X are using the platform in large numbers too and a smaller percentage of Gen Z and Baby Boomers who remain more prominent on other platforms (TikTok and Facebook respectively).
Twitter is a platform about concise clarity and getting your point across in a direct way. Audiences expect short bursts of information and will decide if they wish to follow or interact further. Dialogue is possible on the platform and users often engage with each other but this still mostly remains about short interactions.
When it comes to social media, particularly Twitter, creativity can easily be overlooked. Whilst it is a great platform to distribute thoughts, respond to questions, and generate traffic to your website, it can also be a place for stories.
The most important part of telling a story on Twitter is about getting someone’s attention. Some studies suggest you only have seven seconds to draw attention to your content on social media. Audiences on Twitter are seeing a lot of content in a short space of time and thus being direct and bold will help pull focus.
Think about the opening of your tweet as a newspaper headline. Keep your headline or opening, short and direct. Can you be playful in tone or include a call to action?
A call to action might be inviting audiences to comment or retweet their thoughts on a particular piece of content.
Empathy and emotion
When it comes to storytelling, empathy and emotion are vital and you shouldn’t forget this when writing your tweets and articulating your ideas on Twitter. Audiences on Twitter are looking for real connections however brief they may be. They usually prefer people to organisations so consider how you give your archive a sense of personality or clarity in terms of who is tweeting as well as thinking about how your tweet engages with a person’s emotions, empathy or ideas. It is the feeling of connection that compels people to engage, retweet and follow.
Don’t allow your Twitter to be a faceless organisation that lacks empathy and emotion. Show your playful side, show your caring side, articulate your passion and your love for history and archives. Your audience wants familiarity and a sense of connection through shared interests and ideas.
Part of being a Twitter user is getting used to communicating shorter thoughts and ideas. However, there are times when you might have more to say than 280 characters allows. Threading your tweets is a way to continue your story beyond this limit. It is common to title a thread and to signal to the audience the length of the thread by ending your tweet with a count e.g. (1/15). Remember, a thread is not a place to copy and paste your blog content, it is a Twitter specific form of communication so write for the platform. If you have content elsewhere then link your audience to it instead.
Quote retweet enables you to share your ideas or thoughts about a specific tweet. It is a great way to interact with other archives and to share content beyond a like or comment. You can also be creative with quote retweets and start a chain of tweets around similar ideas. A popular version of this interaction amongst Twitter users has been around sharing specific photographs within a chain. For example, retweeting a photo of you at 18 and now, was a viral moment across Twitter. Think about the ways you could use this feature to generate interactions with audiences and organisations.
Do you keep a box of memories, family heirlooms or a personal archive? Retweet this with a picture of your archive. #MyArchive #ArchivesTwitter
Hashtags are a form of metadata that identifies digital content on a specific topic. They are often used to connect people together around a particular discussion or idea. You may have seen TV shows and movies use them to create discussion and promote their content. This guide provides insight into how they are used on Twitter and other platforms:
Q&A’s are great for Twitter and utilising a hashtag that your audience can ask you questions on is a useful mechanism that is easily manageable.
Call to action
The best stories involve people in direct ways; inviting thoughts, retweets and interactions.
When creating a call to action on social media make sure it is instant and easy for an audience to understand what they have to do. You will find you get the most interaction when the call to action only involves a small amount of effort.
A successful call to action in the archive sector is helping solve mysteries in the archive. For example, a local authority archive will post a picture of a certain area and ask if anyone can identify it.
#MysteryMonday is a call to action that many archives utilise, including Sainsbury’s Archive where they invite their followers to identify a branch or other location from an image they hold in their collection.
Twitter also has an inbuilt poll tool that enables you to gather thoughts and opinions or even ask what your future content could be. You can also suggest that followers reply to the tweet or quote retweet as possible interaction. You will find examples of this in the Inspiration section of this platform guide.
A common way to be playful or to create a clear image in your readers’ mind is to be descriptive within your tweet.
For example, a tweet that begins:
“leans in close and delicately whispers…”
“drops my coffee in excitement at the news that…”
“screaming with excitement that we just found…”
You may have seen these styles of tweets before and they have similarities to approaching scriptwriting or audio description. This more evocative style of writing enables the reader to see beyond what is on the screen and sets a scene in their mind. A playful and engaging style of writing enables you to show a lot more personality to your audience.
One of the advantages of Twitter is it’s timeline structure and how that can be used to tell stories unique to the platform. Twitter’s timeline offers new ways to present narratives and events from the past. Many accounts use the hashtag #onthisday to bring focus to key events that happened on particular dates throughout the year. This is a great way to catch people’s attention in certain parts of your archive. This could be a standalone tweet or you could provide a link to further information if they wanted to find out more.
Timeline storytelling can be developed where tweets are published over a period of time, this could be days, weeks, months or even years. This might require a dedicated Twitter account but it is an interesting way to present parts of your collection to your audience.
Take a look at the examples below that create long term narrative digital engagements with audiences:
National Museum Wales: The twitter account @DyddiadurKate shares entries from the diaries of Kate Rowlands, Sarnau. Over a century later, her entries from 1915 tell a story about life in Wales during the First World War.
The Foreign Office: Real time tweeting of original @ForeignOffice correspondence during the 1914 July Crisis that led to #WW1.
Creative thinking and exercises
Exercise one – reflect
Take some time to monitor your own engagement on Twitter, consider how many tweets you see in even just 10 minutes on the platform. Within that period, which posts make you stop to read?
Within the 10 minutes consider
- What stopped you from scrolling to fully engage with a tweet?
- How many tweets do you think you read in that time?
- What impact did images have on your engagement?
Exercise two – interact
Twitter is not just about the content you create but also about how you respond to others and engage your audience in dialogue. Part of creating for Twitter is about curating your presence on the app and thinking about how you interact with other accounts.
- What sort of content should your archive search for and interact with?
- Is there any content or interest your account engages with that isn’t related to archives or history?
Discuss how you might team up with other small archives to boost each other’s content and share in audiences.
York Museums Trust #CuratorBattle is a hashtag allows curators to post some of their most interesting content in a fun and competitive way.
History Begins at Home (#HistoryBeginsAtHome) is an account and hashtag that are an archives and wellbeing initiative, drawing on nostalgia and connecting people in conversation. It is an initiative of the Archives for Wellbeing Network and the Chief Archivists in Local Government Group of the Archives and Records Association.
The Museum of English Rural Life tweeted a story thread that went viral in 2018 about a chicken in trousers.
Duck pics became a playful exchange between museums and cultural organisations sharing duck pics.
Sainsbury’s Archive Yoghurt World Cup (#Sainsburys1980sYoghurtWorldCup) is an excellent example of gamification on the platform.
Social Media handbook
Embrace Digital from the Heritage Lab – social media handbook for cultural institutions and professionals. This helpful free guide covers everything from developing a social media strategy to planning your social content.
Social Media toolkit
The European network on cultural management and policy (ENCATC) – social media toolkit for cultural managers. This toolkit offers a deep dive into all aspects of social media from understanding online marketing to analysing online data to understand your audience.
Twitter Business – How to use Tweet threads
Thread Reader is a Twitter bot that collates threaded tweets into longer pieces of text that are easier to read.
Buffer have produced an extensive guide of free tools that can help support your Twitter content.
Explore Your Archive
The #ExploreYourArchive campaign operates across three social media platforms; Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Using #ExploreYourArchive on any of these platforms will greatly increase the size and range of audiences viewing your posts. The Explore Your Archive team searches for the hashtag daily and reposts your content to further promote your posts.
How to measure impact
You will always be able to see the number of followers you have on your account profile and each tweet you post will also display the number of comments, likes and retweets. This will give you a sense of how your content is being received and enable you to see your most interacted with tweets.
However, there is a lot more you can learn about how to measure your Twitter engagement. Take a look at this in-depth guide to Twitter analytics:
One of the strongest accessibility features on Twitter is its in-built image description features to make images more accessible. You can find Twitter’s guide to the feature here:
Twitter Help Centre – How to make images accessible for people
Government Communication Service – Planning, creating and publishing accessible social media campaigns
Twitter can at times be a place of division and outrage and for people and organisations in the public eye, the platform can at times become a hostile place where they encounter hate speech.
How you engage on the platform should reflect the stated values of your organisation and you should be prepared (and supported) to engage publicly, openly and honestly with the content you post. Ensure that you post with a consideration of equality, diversity and inclusion and display your values with clarity and confidence. If confronted, your organisation must be prepared to stand up for these values and for you and your statements. You should apologise when you have made a mistake online but not when you haven’t. Remain professional and avoid ad hominem attacks but do not be afraid to block harassing or abusive individuals.
Make sure that you are exercising a certain amount of safe-care and you are not engaging with this platform out of office hours. Scheduling tools can help with this.
This article has useful tips on how to consider an inclusive approach:
Sprout social – 5 ways to develop a long-term strategy for diversity, equity & inclusion on social media
Digital Pathways – Resource portal. This portal has aggregated useful resources from different organisations on a multitude of digital topics. Guides relating to aspects of digital engagement are included.
Mad Fish Digital – How to use ethical social media marketing to attract your audience
Twitter Business – 4 ways to tell your brand story on Twitter