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Killacky: Lessons Of A Twitter Sitter

Recently I had the pleasure of representing Vermont’s Department of Tourism and Marketing on its @ThisisVT Twitter handle. A different person each week takes over the feed, and we are given free rein.

To compose my daily output of about 40 tweets, I spent hours scanning social media and websites to represent our region’s diverse array of artists and cultural organizations. I repurposed pieces I’ve written for local media. To add some personal material, I dug up assorted stories and photos about my pony, Pacific Raindrop. Colleagues from work sent along suggestions as well.

My tweets got 102,700 impressions over the week, averaging 14,700 per day. However, the engagement rate was only 1.6%, which is pretty typical for the site. On Twitter, everyone has a megaphone, but few take incoming calls.

My numbers accelerated when Neko Case retweeted the announcement of her upcoming concert at Lebanon Opera House. The second most popular entry was an essay about historic preservation with a beautiful photo of art deco features at the Flynn. These two accounted for more than 20% of my impressions. A less favored post, but one that had a high engagement rate of 9%, included a photo of a mid-19th century tombstone for a lesbian couple in Weybridge.

Factoids were popular – like the one where Vermont ranks third nationally for artists as a percentage of the workforce; or that on February 18, 1791, Congress voted to accept Vermont into the United States. Both tweets got traction, as did my request for followers to describe #VTArtsin3Words. People had fun with this, even when beer fans hijacked the conversation.

As I connected to Twitter feeds from arts organizations across the state, it became clear that we text-focused old fogies have it wrong. Photos and embedded videos are essential for engagement; show don’t tell - folks seldom click on links to learn more details. Twitter’s greatest potential is not to sell tickets or garner contributions, but to invite communities in, to co-create meaning and participate.

Twitter is an ephemeral space. Given the nanosecond life span of a tweet, effective management of social media output cannot happen only during the workday. Early mornings, evenings, and weekends, when most folks are on-line, were pretty dormant for fellow arts groups.

And, if you’re going to have a Twitter button on your web site, keep it current. I can’t tell you how many Twitter accounts of arts organizations  were sorely outdated - not very encouraging to audiences wanting to be more engaged.

John Killacky is the executive director of Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington.
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