Followers & Friends: You Can Build a Social Media Presence

I AM NOT UNDER THE AGE OF 30. I cannot write enough code to create a single page of a Web site. And two years ago when I was hired by The Heritage Foundation, social media was nowhere in my job description.

Today I have over 630 friends on Facebook and nearly 3,000 followers on Twitter. Both of these social media platforms have been immensely helpful to me in my job as Heritage’s Strategic Policy Outreach Manager.

If I can build a social media presence, you can too. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection.

What’s All the Excitement About?

According to research by The Conference Board, 43 percent of Internet users now use a social network, up from 27 percent just one year ago.

If you do a Google search for “social media” you will get nearly 200 million results. In those results, you will find hundreds of thousands of pieces of advice for how to adapt your business to social media.

In fact, according to Facebook, over 8 million users join a fan page every day. Every day nearly 2 million tweets are posted on Twitter. And Pew research reports that 43 percent of adults who use a social networking site do so to organize with others for an event, an issue, or a cause.

Facebook has become the most used social media platform in the world. As of June 2009, Facebook had over 122 million unique visitors. According to the Consumer Internet Barometer, 78 percent of all households have a Facebook user. It started as a pastime for college kids and then moved into high schools, but today those over 35 are the fastest growing group of Facebook users. Facebook is truly a medium that reaches across the demographic spectrum.

Twitter is a “microblog” with posts—called “tweets”—of 140 characters or less. It is like a group blog made up of text message-length posts between friends.

Twitter is the fastest growing social media platform in the world. When I joined in July of 2008, there were just over 2 million unique visitors per month. In June of 2009, there were nearly 23 million.

Twitter has even crossed over into mainstream news. Television newsrooms today monitor tweets for breaking news stories. About 1.5 million people followed Lance Armstrong’s return to the Tour de France on Twitter. Actor Ashton Kutcher even challenged CNN to see who could get 1 million Twitter followers first. Kutcher is now number one on Twitter with over 3.1 million followers. By comparison, President Obama has 1.9 million. Seventy-four Twitter accounts have more than 1 million followers.

You do not need 1 million Twitter followers, but investing time in building a social media presence can pay big dividends in helping you get your message out to new audiences.

How to Build from Scratch

A guiding principle for both Twitter and Facebook is that it is not enough to simply have an account or fan page: You have to join the conversation. Here are a few tips:

1. Regularly post content. When promoting your research or commentary, make sure to use catchy phrases that will draw people in. Think Drudge Report-style headlines, not scientific journal titles.

2. Promote upcoming events. When promoting an event, create an event page on your Facebook account even if you have a page on your Web site. You can even create a Facebook ad for an event—or for your organization generally—that can be targeted very narrowly for an event at a relatively low cost.

3. Tweet good quotes from every event your organization hosts. Assign at least one person to this task.

4. Share photos and videos after an event. For photos, tag your fans or friends on Facebook if they attended. The tagging will show up on their Facebook pages, as well as your own, so their friends will see it.

5. Do not be afraid to post multiple messages about a single item—particularly an event or an original work—as long as these are not your only messages.

6. Actively work for new friends and followers. On Twitter, look at who is following you. There is a good chance the people following them will also be interested in what you have to say. Dedicating 15 minutes per day to following new people will build your reach slowly and steadily over time. The same holds true for Facebook. A fan of The Heritage Foundation who lives in your state is a likely candidate to be a fan of a state-based conservative organization. Some people may not respond to your requests, but many will.

7. Answer your e-mails and direct messages and follow people who follow you. Yes, this takes a little time, but by building these relationships you are likely to find people who will forward your information to others.

8. Highlight good content from others. If you find something good while researching online, tweet the link. If someone else sends out something that you like, you can do something called re-tweeting. And thank others when they share your work in a tweet.

9. Make it personal. People engaged in social networking sites want to have a personal connection with you. Yes, your organization should have its own Twitter page with its own name on it, but employees should also be encouraged to have individual Twitter pages on which they post both personal and professional tweets. Don’t tweet every mundane moment of your day (the world already knows that trash duty isn’t fun). But do not be afraid to recommend a movie you saw or to tweet that you spotted someone famous at the airport.

10. Cross-promote your social media content in your e-mails, on your Web site, and in any other communications your organization produces.

11. Make sure you tweet when your organization’s principals are giving public speeches or presentations.

12. Use hashtags to call attention to an event, issue, or coalition. A hashtag is the hash sign (#)—also known as the pound sign or the number sign—followed by a short code phrase (with no spaces) designated for a particular topic. By identifying posts with a hashtag, someone can quickly search Twitter to follow the conversation. Right now, a popular issue hashtag is “#handsoff” which is being used in the health care debate. A coalition-building hashtag is “#tcot” which stands for “top conservatives on Twitter.” This hashtag and a Web site by the same name has helped link thousands of conservative activists together.


You may find the idea of maintaining two or more networks online to be a bit overwhelming. The good news is that there are many free online tools to help you.

For example, you can update your Facebook page with your Twitter posts by setting up a Twitter application within Facebook. Ping and FriendFeed are just two of many multi-posting, third-party tools that are worth checking out.

If you are in charge of the social media for your organization and also maintain a personal Twitter account, you might want to consider a tool such as HootSuite, which allows you to manage multiple accounts from the same program. HootSuite also features a URL shortener that can measure how many clicks your links are getting when you tweet them. And HootSuite allows you to identify others on Twitter whose work you want to track more closely by following them in a separate column.

Twitterfeed posts automatically to Twitter from the RSS feed generated by your blog or Web site. Twitterfeed also tells you how many times someone clicked on the link in your post.

If you have an item to post that is longer than 140 characters but is not something your organization would necessarily blog about or publish, you might want to use Posterous. Posterous is a blogging service that allows you to create a post by simply sending an e-mail. The subject line becomes the title as well as what appears in your tweet along with a link to the full content. This post can automatically go to Twitter, Facebook, flickr, or to the popular free blogging platforms. Or it can go to a combination of those, or to all of them at once. And it allows you to track the number of page views you get.

Whatever tools you use, effective communication in social media is critically important for increasing the reach of your message to more members of your target audience and for identifying partners with whom to build coalitions.

Mr. Kelly is strategic policy outreach manager for The Heritage Foundation. He can be followed at