Social Gov

How not to do a Twitter Q&A

Labor Secretary Tom Perez participates in a July 13 Q&A on Twitter

Labor Secretary Tom Perez took part in a July 13 Twitter Q&A. (White House photo)

Social media is like going to the gym.

It's great if you show up, but that's only half the battle – real work is required if you want to see results.

So said Scott Talan, assistant professor of public & strategic communication at American University, while breaking down the Labor Department's July 13 Twitter Q&A session.

"They get an 'A' for effort," Talan said. On authentic engagement, however, he said the session ranked "below a 'C.'"

What made the session fall flat?

The Q&A was tied to the White House's Conference on Aging, with Labor Secretary Tom Perez tweeting out answers to questions posed by people using the #WhiteHouseOnAOL hashtag -- but Perez responded to only nine questions, despite many more being asked.

A couple of Perez' tweets contained specific answers and links to resources, as when he was asked about the losses consumers face when retirement planners give conflict-of-interest-tainted advice.

Other tweets, however, were merely broad, stock answers:

And in a few cases, Perez' tweets merely acknowledged questions, rather than responding to them.

"That's part of the nature of Twitter, you only have this 140-character space to answer," the social media guru Talan noted. But Perez could have used multiple tweets to respond to a single question, and given the short-burst character of tweets, "You'd expect [the number of answers] to be closer to 90, not nine," Talan said.

Talan also noted that the best social media campaigns are typically "detailed, personalized, [and] substantive," but those elements seemed largely absent in Perez' answers. The Q&A will go down as one more neutral-to-negative entry in the "uneven success" story of federal agencies' social media, Talan said.

The whole thing might best be characterized as a "learning opportunity," he added.

There was one person Perez appeared to beat on social media, however: former New York Governor George Pataki, who appeared to answer only six or seven questions during his #AskPataki Q&A, which also took place July 13.

The Labor Department did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.

About the Author

Zach Noble is a former FCW staff writer.

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