“If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”


This famous philosophical conundrum can be applied to tweeting too.

There is limited point in crafting a series of pithy, intriguing tweets if you have only a few dozen followers to read and share them.

This series of posts has followed a logical structure starting with getting your Twitter name, bio picture and profile right, and going on to advice about best tweeting and re-tweeting practice.

However, it would have been just as useful to have started with this post first.

As soon as you set up a Twitter account, you want to start building your following.

The main point of tweeting as a police or probation officer (or for anyone else for that matter) is to get your message out there.

It is true to say that police work is perhaps more immediately interesting to most people.

We all tend to follow crime stories and there are dozens of reality shows along the lines of “Police, Camera, Action”.

People are also particularly interested in crimes that happen locally where they might know the perpetrator or victim, or at least the location.

But probation trusts have thousands of redemption stories – examples of people turning their lives around – the staple of many a Hollywood movie.

These can generate just as much online interest, but probation tweeters may have to work a bit harder to build a following in the first place.

How to get followers

There is a whole host of tips and techniques to building a following but before we look at them, remember people will only follow you, and keep following you, if you have something interesting to say.

Even those of you in charge of corporate accounts will have realised that just broadcasting repetitive PR messages doesn’t work on Twitter. You need to link to real-life, human interest stories, engage with followers and discuss ideas and issues.

You need to write in plain English, inject some tabloid style, humour, whimsy – in a word, character – into your tweets.

Here are a few ways to get you started.

1. Get introduced to Twitter society

Tweeters are a friendly bunch, if you are just starting out on Twitter, ask anyone you know on Twitter to introduce you via a Tweet. Lots of people will say hello and follow you as a way of welcoming you to the world of Twitter.

I always follow new probation tweeters and am happy to announce your arrival online.

2. Follow other Tweeters

Most Tweeters will follow people who follow them (unless they are only trying to sell something they don’t want). So start off by following lots of people. Think who you want to get your message out to and follow Tweeters in your area of interest, your partners, local politicians, Think Tanks, local media and community groups etc. You can search for local organisations by putting a hashtag before your location, e.g. #Coventry,  in the Twitter search bar (top right of the Twitter page).

3. Follow the followers

If you follow someone who is popular  in your area of interest, click on their Twitter home page (Just click on their name) and look at who they are following. Follow these people too.

4. Use lists

Many Tweeters organise the people they follow in lists. Click on these and peruse them and follow people you like the look of. I keep lists of probation people on Twitter and influential criminal justice tweeters you might like to have a look at.

@ngargan_npia keeps a series of lists of police people who tweet.

@Tweetminster is the best source for the more than half of MPs who tweet.

But remember who you are trying to get your message out to. It might be fun to follow lots of other iPlods and probation tweeps, but you want to focus on getting your message out to your local commissioners, community groups, politicians etc.

5. Follow Back

It’s obvious, but don’t forget to follow back people who follow you. Have a look at their profile and who they follow too. Then follow anyone who looks interesting or part of your target audience.

6. Advertise the fact that you are on Twitter

Put your Twitter name in your email signature. If possible, hyperlink it to your Twitter account, so that people can follow you by just two clicks. Your twitter home page address is in the form: https://twitter.com/russwebt @russwebt is my Twitter name, just substitute yours.

Put a twitter feed on your website, blog or Facebook page. People will then know you are on Twitter. Twitter can help you do this via a simple widget. Mine looks like this:


Remember, Tweeting is like throwing a rock into a pool, the more followers you have to re-Tweet you, the heavier the rock and the further the ripples spread.


Next week. Getting organised – managing your busy twitter account.

Have a good week till next week.

Russell is running a series of half day courses for people who wish to tweet on behalf of their organisation or business.

Full details of Twitter for Beginners.

Full details of Taking your tweeting to the next level.



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