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Welcome to the first in a series of short posts about how probation trusts can make the most out of Twitter.

I’ve been running training days for Probation Trusts on a strategic approach to social media for a few months now and thought it would be useful to share some practice tips in a short post once a week.

There are now over a hundred individuals tweeting professionally as representatives of 19 probation trusts and the probation presence on Twitter has grown substantially over the last six months.

I decided on a weekly series since even busy probation staff can find 5 minutes free once per week.

It was then just a matter of choosing a day of the week. I didn’t want to clash with #FollowFriday and even though:

“Wednesday’s child is full of woe”

I opted for the middle of the week for sentimental reasons – when I was a probation officer (in the Edmonton patch of North London, back in the late 80s – early 90s), Wednesday was team meeting – and case allocation – day.

What’s in a name?

I was always taught to “begin at the beginning”, so the first post deals with choosing your twitter name.

This may seem such a simple thing to do, and one that’s not worth spending much time over.

However, if you are intending to represent your trust online, it’s important to get your handle right. You don’t want to change it at a later date and risk losing your army of followers.

There are a few simple criteria to consider:

  1. You want to make it clear that you work for Probation.
  2. You want to make it clear which trust you work for.
  3. You don’t want a Twitter name that takes up too many of your 140 characters when people engage you in Twitter debates. I recently did some social media training for Leicestershire and Rutland Probation Trust – they will need to choose their Twitter names carefully.
  4. If you work in a particular geographical location, you want to make that clear – local agencies and people will be key members of your target audience.
  5. Finally, successful Tweeters have an individual personality, if possible you want to include at least your first name.

Now that we already have five (partially competing) criteria, you can see that the choice is not quite so straightforward.

Probation Trusts such as Staffordshire and West Midlands (why not check out their Facebook page) who have a couple of dozen staff tweeting on their behalf, have adopted a convention that all their Twitter names include SWM in their Twitter Name with their corporate account @SWMProbation and managers of different localities named appropriately: @SWMWolves and @SWMCoventry for example.

However, as you can see, these Twitter handles don’t include people’s names or the fact that they work for a probation trust.

Since its recent update, Twitter displays both your Twitter handle and name which some people have used to good effect.

So @Zoestaffsgmpt probation officer succeeds in getting her name and trust acronym in her handle and her role alongside it.

Of course, Trusts must decide whether they want to promote their brand or include the word probation in their handle. Again the new Twitter version lets people do both, as you can see from @ASPTrust:

To summarise, you want to choose a Twitter Handle which is short, includes your name and makes it clear you work for the local probation service. My advice is to talk through your options with your Trust PR/Comms person before deciding.

While it might not be as hard as naming your kids, choosing your Twitter Name merits a bit of thought and attention.

Next Wednesday, we will look at a feature which makes a bigger first impression than your handle – your Twitter photo/image.

Thereafter we will take a different subject each week:

  1. Writing your Twitter Bio
  2. What makes a good tweet
  3. The art of Re-tweeting
  4. Attracting followers
  5. Choosing your Twitter Client
  6. Measuring your impact

If there’s anything else you would like me to cover, let me know by leaving a comment below –

Or tweet me @russwebt


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