(This is the first of a series of interviews that put a face with the “@”behind the Tweets for companies and organizations.)
Meet Sabra Schneider(@sabrak), Webmaster and Tweeter for King County, Washington (@kcnews). Seattle is in King County, which is located on Puget Sound in Washington State, and covering 2,134 square miles. With more than 1.8 million people, it ranks as the 13th most populous county in the nation.
Former King County Executive, Ron Sims, was an early adopter and the first King County government official to catch the Twitter bug approximately a year and a half ago. The business of King County government began Tweeting in November 2008 and Sabra is the primary tweeter. Below is my interview with Sabra.
- Are you the main Tweeter for @kcnews?
Yes, although we have approximately 10 public information officers who have access and regularly contribute. I work closely with the Executive Office Communications team.
- What is the main goal for King County using Twitter?
To augment existing communication channels and reach and talk with our residents directly. We once asked our followers on Twitter why they though it was important for governments to be there and the answers were compelling. People liked direct access to government, the use of free/cheap tools and the two-way conversation.
- How are you measuring the value of Tweeting?
We monitor in many of the usual ways such as number of followers, number of direct messages, number of retweets. We use bit.ly for our links, which allows us to track how many people are clicking the links. In addition, I look at the following tools: Klout, twInfluence, Twitter Analyzer, TweetEffect and tweetreach.One of my favorite twitter stories involves a hamster. We had an orange one (ala the dancing hamster of early Internet days ) who was waiting for a home at a King County animal shelter who had been left on a metro bus. I tweeted about our own dancing hamster and the next day received a message from a resident (and the hamster’s new papa) that he adopted Z the hamster. It all happened in less than 14 hours.
- What advice do you have for other organizations and businesses using Twitter or thinking of using it?
Don’t be afraid to have fun with it. Treat it as a two-way conversation. Add value to your existing communication. Maintain it and be active. Lose government speak, you don’t have enough space. It’s also rewarding to connect directly with the residents and or customers, and don’t be afraid of direct feedback.
- What are some mechanics behind Tweeting? Do you have a Tweet editorial calendar?
No. We don’t have a calendar specifically for Twitter, although we do aim for at least four tweets a day. Tweets might include anything from concert information in our parks to schedule for the mobile hazardous waste collection. I generally tweet when we have something interesting happening or to highlight one of our services or services from other government agencies.
- How many hours a day do you spend Tweeting?
Probably the average day is an hour. And that’s a few minutes here, and a few minutes there. Not a solid block of time although it’s more time in an emergency event.
- Any interesting or unique customer stories related to @kcnew Tweets?
Last winter, King County experienced flooding in many of the rural cities in our County and we used Twitter to help get information out to residents about river levels and safety concerns. We worked closely with emergency management, media and residents to get accurate word out and to follow up quickly. I like how easy it is to work collaboratively with residents and media on Twitter. The online transparency and partnership is unique.
- Do you have a favorite “follow”?
I geek out a lot on what’s going on with government and social media. The Washington Department of Transportation (@wsdot) and their various Twitter accounts is a role model for social media in government. Alaska Air (@alaskaair) and PCC (@PCC) are doing a great job, too on the corporate side. Personally I enjoy @westseattleblog, @grist, @levyj413, @friendsseattle and @moniguzman. That said, I enjoy everyone I follow!
- What are some future ideas/uses for social media for King County?
We’ve had requests to break out from our general account @kcnews into topic specific accounts. We’ve recently introduced @kcpets, which focuses on getting adoptable animals into forever homes. We’re also in the midst of emergency planning for winter season and will soon debut @kcalerts. We want to augment current communication efforts and find ways to reach less connected residents too.