EPA offers Twitter response cheat sheet

Editor's note: This article was modified after publication to include new information.

One of the tricky issues for federal agencies on Twitter is how to decide consistently whether to respond, or not respond, to a tweeted question or comment. Now there is some help with that dilemma.

The Environmental Protection Agency has distributed a one-page flow chart that serves as a "cheat sheet" decision tool for indicating when agency representatives should respond to a tweet.

The EPA tool was designed for responding on Twitter, as well as on Facebook and other social networks, said Jeffrey Levy, director of Web communications for the EPA. It was developed based on advice previously distributed by the Air Force.

EPA’s decision tool recently earned an endorsement in a recent report on federal Twitter use by Ines Mergel, assistant professor of public administration at Syracuse University.

Her report, “Working the Network: A Manager’s Guide for Using Twitter in Government,” was published by the IBM Center for the Business of Government on May 14.

In the report, Mergel recommended that federal agencies on Twitter adopt the EPA decision tool as part of their Twitter strategy. She also urged them to develop strategies and policies for Twitter that could involve pushing out information, pulling in information, customer service and networking.

“Think about when to respond, retweet or comment on your audience’s tweets,” Mergel wrote. “Follow the EPA’s cheat sheet, “Should I Respond Online On EPA’s Behalf?”

The EPA flow chart offers a series of questions to guide the agency representative into a decision. The first series of questions asks whether the issue is of importance, whether the answer is likely to be of interest to a large number of readers, and how much time it will take to research an answer.

From there, it gets a little more complicated. The agency representative should consider whether the incoming tweet was a joke, sarcastic or a rant; whether it had a positive or balanced tone; and whether it contained erroneous information.

Several more questions follow, with final recommendations to either respond or not respond.

The EPA also outlines four basic considerations in preparing an official response to an incoming tweet or comment:

  • Be transparent – Identify your agency.
  • Cite your sources – Stick to facts and cite your sources by including hyperlinks, video, images, etc.
  • Respect your own time – Do not spend more time on a response than it's worth.
  • Use a professional tone – Your response should reflect positively on your agency.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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