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 staff writer covering digital citizen services, workforce issues and a range of civilian federal agencies.

Before joining FCW in 2015, Noble served as assistant editor at the viral news site TheBlaze, where he wrote a mix of business, political and breaking news stories and managed weekend news coverage. He has also written for online and print publications including The Washington Free Beacon, The Santa Barbara News-Press, The Federalist and Washington Technology.

Noble is a graduate of Saint Vincent College, where he studied English, economics and mathematics.

Click here for previous articles by Noble, or connect with him on Twitter: @thezachnoble.


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