Rules of (Twitter) Engagement

I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. This may be because The Notebook seems to be on T.V. every night and also because each weekend I see newly married couples posing for photos at a large park near my house.

(As an aside, I’m not sure what’s worse: that The Notebook is on all the time or that I usually end up watching it…damn you Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams!).

But more than the film in question, I’ve been thinking about the nature of love because I’m writing this post on my eighth wedding anniversary. Where is my wife you ask? She and the kids are in New York watching her sister, my sister-in-law, perform in the Lion King on Broadway. It’s a good bet I wouldn’t be writing a blog post on this day in any other year. But you can only watch so many episodes of The Big Bang Theory before turning to your own pseudo-intellectual pursuits.

My deliberations on love also got me thinking about social media engagement. When two potential couples meet–over dinner, drinks, a viewing of The Notebook, perhaps?–they “get to know each other” by discussing interests, backgrounds, goals, etc. There is the epitome of a reciprocal relationship, in which two people exchange personal data, “file it away,” and decide, at some point, if there will be additional engagement (i.e., more dates).

For many higher ed institutions, social media engagement can be one-sided. The institution may tweet out information or respond to queries but there may be little true engagement with one’s audience.

But true engagement is possible–even for colleges and universities with a large number followers– and in this post I’ll share some best practices I’ve used to increase Twitter engagement, especially among alumni and students.

A Customer-Focused Approach

The first step to successful Twitter engagement is identifying your “target audience.” These are the followers–or people that you follow–you want to engage with (see my first post below which includes a discussion of Twitter list management).

Once you have identified your target audience, the next step is to proactively engage with them. There are many ways to do this–retweets or tweets of a follower’s blog posts, for example–but the most effective way I’ve found is to connect specific audience members with “content” of interest.

For example, several months ago I came across a follower who wrote a blog post on “The 10 Best Chocolatiers in the World.” After a quick search of my tracking sheet (more on this below), I was able to identify a member of my target audience who had the following on her Twitter bio:

“finance junkie, chocolate addict, sun-worshiper.”

Using this information, I sent this follower a link to the chocolatier post (along with the handle of the post’s author) via Twitter.

This process–which included reading the post, accessing my tracking sheet, and writing the tweet–took around ten minutes and resulted in two additional tweets (a thank you tweet from the post’s author and a response to a question I asked her, “What will you be blogging about next?”).

Track, Track, Track

How can you make the type of connection shared above?

It starts with tracking your target audience.

I have followed a relatively simple approach. Each follower who engages with me–by responding to a question I have posed, favoriting or retweeting one of my tweets–gets added to an excel spreadsheet I have developed. The sheet includes the follower’s name, handle, and Twitter bio information separated by a backslash (e.g., Higher Education/Music/Boston Red Sox).

This tracking sheet is invaluable as I use it regularly to connect followers with each other and with content of interest. Managing the spreadsheet is fairly easy since I only include followers I’ve interacted with, as opposed to ALL the followers identified as important.

Was this post helpful? Is there anything I missed? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. He’s also the former writer and editor of GradMatters: The Blog for Tufts GSAS. 

Follow Robert on Twitter at


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