To Tweet or Not To Tweet

Joining the forestry and timber community on Twitter

Andrew Heald is Confor’s technical advisor and, together with Dougal Driver, the ‘muscle’ of our Twitter engagement. He has found his place in the Twitter community and tweets actively from the early morning hours, mainly about forest certification and global land use issues. Andrew does not have children.

Stef Kaiser has long used LinkedIn professionally within the forestry and land use sector. However, she had given up on Twitter, as it seemed too resource-intense for an unclear benefit. As Confor’s communications manager, she feels slightly embarrassed about not communicating woodlands in the ‘twittersphere.’ Will there be a place for Twitter in her life?

Is it worth using Twitter?

S: I communicate within the forestry and timber sector. I am very pleased about my LinkedIn network and I see the benefit of it. I sign up to groups around certain topics and the relevant people are all there, discussing issues, making contacts. What could I use Twitter for and is it worth it? How would I get started?

A: You feel comfortable with LinkedIn because you know it. Twitter is also a two-way communication, but it is much faster than LinkedIn and you can potentially connect with a much wider range of people. So it depends on your purpose, if you just want to exchange professional information and network – yes, LinkedIn is great. But, if you want to ‘spread the word’ and also stay on top of what’s going on in your sector and be able to react to it, wherever you are – then you should look into Twitter.

S: I know. I don’t really have an excuse. But exploring how to get started takes time. Can you tell me step by step how to get started and reach or connect with the right people?

A: Sure, try this quick start guide below*.

S: Sounds straightforward, similar to other social media. What do I do if I see a great tweet? I assume there is an equivalent to the Facebook ‘like’?

A: Well, if you ‘favourite’ a tweet, it is like ‘ liking’ a Facebook post, and it is visible to the tweeter and the readers of the tweet. You can also re-tweet, which corresponds to sharing a post on LinkedIn and Facebook.

The difficult part – how to get followers

S: When I tried to tap into the ‘Twittersphere’ years ago, I struggled to get followers. My aim was to tweet only occasionally, whenever I had relevant content; this strategy made it hard to build that important critical mass of followers to get the ball rolling.

A: Be interesting, be consistent, have an opinion and use hashtags.

S: Yes, but how do I build a critical mass? At the beginning, hardly anyone will read my interesting and consistent tweets.

A: The first thing is to follow relevant people – if they see that you have something interesting to say, in particularly if you tweet information relevant to their sector, they are likely to follow back. Secondly, comment on people’s tweets and show that you are interested, knowledgeable, relevant and have an opinion. You can also tweet someone directly, if you have something interesting to share, eg “Hi @andyheald, any interesting discussions around the FSC Online Claims Platform in Seville?” This will be seen not only by your followers but also by Andrew’s followers. If the tweet is relevant to them, they will follow you.

Go beyond broadcasting, start a dialogue

S: One day you mentioned to me that in our sector, a lot of companies don’t use Twitter beyond broadcasting. I myself struggled in the past to make the step from broadcasting news to starting a dialogue.

A: It’s true that it requires persistence, and/or some luck to get an interesting topic that attracts a lot of discussion. Also interesting, eye-catching or cute photos encourage people to re-tweet.

S: What frequency of tweeting do you suggest for someone who wants to start using twitter efficiently and become part of the Twittersphere of our industry?

A: At least once or twice a day – every day – if you want to build up followers and seem interested. You need to reply to a question or comment on twitter quickly – a few days later is no good. It’s like a conversation in a pub or café – if someone asks a question then they expect an answer – otherwise they won’t ask again.

S: This is the reason I have been putting off my engagement with Twitter – because I see it is a powerful tool BUT to use it professionally and for campaigning it requires a strategy, a sufficient amount of relevant content and the necessary time resource.

A: Yes, you are right there, but there are tools to help and again, it’s about following the right people and searching for relevant topics.

S: I will give it another try – but last but not least please shed some light on the meaning and use of hashtags.

A: It is just an easy way to tag a discussion. Think of a pub with lots of tables and people sitting around them, discussing different topics. You would like to join one group but don’t know which discussion would interest you most.

Each group has told the barkeeper what they are talking about, these are the hashtags: Group one talks about FSC, at table two the discussion is hot on Ash dieback. Table one also includes your friend Andrew Heald who always has interesting things to tell! You tell the bartender that you would like to join a table where people like you, worried about Ash dieback, exchange information and discuss the topic.

On Twitter, you search for #ashdieback. You will get lots of tweets from people like the ones who are at table two and have tagged their conversation. A lot of them will include links to interesting new documents, guides or videos.


Stef Kaiser: My verdict

I see that it is all about making the most efficient use of the 140 words my tweets are limited to. I want to be concise and interesting, identify great discussions and find or reach the people that are relevant to me.

In particular in the forestry and timber sector, many people work in rural areas and mostly deal with people within their subsector. Twitter allows us all to become aware of issues that concern us, such as tree diseases or regulations, but are often discussed somewhere else. We can actively take part in these discussions, make our voice heard, be part of the wider forestry community. We can suddenly reach out to the industries that use our timber and the people influencing the policies and regulations that affect our businesses.

If we want to use Twitter professionally, we should have a clear strategy or goal and work towards it. We have to consider whether we will be able to create a sufficient flow of relevant content and whether we will have enough time to build our position within the Twitter community. We can also take it easy – connect to some relevant people and listen in; we can grow into Twitter, see if there is a topic or group of people where we can naturally express our virtual self.

Give it a try – but don’t get obsessed, there is no need to trade your family for a glamourous life in the Twittersphere!

If you need more information, visit the Twitter Help Centre (https://support.twitter.com)
and search for “using hashtags on Twitter”.

First published in The Scotsman, July 4th, 2020.