If the IRS Tweets So Can You!

Fight Tweet Fear, One Tweet at a Time

Fight Tweet Fear, One Tweet At a TImeCompanies, especially in pharmaceutical, financial and other regulated industries, often lament that they’d like to participate in social media but internal approval channels take at least six months to get communications approved and that’s way too long for social media interactions. Organizations don’t get more traditional and bureaucratic, have more complicated information (at least for the non-professional), or contain more personal information requiring strong privacy and security controls than the IRS. Therefore, if the IRS can tweet with limited resources (hey, we’re talking about a government agency!), so can you!

3 Organizations that show how to fight tweet fear

Here are three organizations that most engaged social media experts would think wouldn’t be able to overcome internal hurdles to use social media—but they do! Even more importantly, they’re slowly learning how to navigate the social media ecosystem to make the world a better place both inside and outside of their organizations. If they can, so can you!

  1. IRS (aka: Internal Revenue Service). How do they do cram their information into 140 characters? The IRS tweet tips containing useful information and directs people to appropriate pages of their website. The IRS has a Twitter editorial board that meets monthly and works together to assess what people want to know and what information is needed. The IRS targets their information across five different Twitter accounts: @IRSnews provides general information, @IRStaxpros tailors information for tax professionals, @IRSenEspanol gives content in Spanish that’s run by the IRS’s Spanish news office, @RecruitmentIRS talks about careers in tax and at the IRS that’s run by the human capital office, and @YourVoiceIRS works on systemic issues. In addition, the IRS has three YouTube channels and is developing a mobile app. While this content is distributed from the IRS to the public and doesn’t allow for interaction, it does enable the IRS to broaden its information dissemination, learn and test its way into expanded social media usage.
  2. Detroit Medical Center (aka: DMC, a group of eight hospitals). Why follow a hospital on social media? This was the challenge that DMC led by Julian Bond faced. Julian Bond (aka: @DMC_Julian) used social media, particularly Twitter and YouTube to make hospitals a less scary place for patients and to build employee morale. With patient consent, Julian arranged to tweet about three mothers having babies on September 9, 2009 (09/09/09) as well as a minimally invasive hip replacement operation. (While it sounds like a scene out of Grey’s Anatomy, this is real life.) But Julian didn’t stop there. He got employees involved in a fun “Do the ICU-2”, a hand washing, hand-sanitizing dance on YouTube. Additionally, Julian found a great story to tell within the hospital. A woman, paralyzed after an accident, wanted to walk down the aisle at her wedding. Julian created an uplifting video of this woman’s journey
  3. Toronto Police. Talk about an organization where social media might not work. Yet Scott Mills (aka: @GraffitiBMXCop), social media coordinator and graffiti art coordinator for the Toronto Police, not only makes social media work but also helps change the world one communication at a time. Scott uses social media to help the police get tips to prevent crimes. He’s  increased the number of tips significantly via the Twitter handle, @csiworld (short for Crime Stoppers International, not the television show.) Additionally, he’s engaged with graffiti artists, specifically @bubzart and @artofphade in Toronto, and supports legal graffiti as an art form to enhance public areas. These artists found that by adding a mural to a back alley, residents worked to clean it up.

3 Ways to overcome social media fear

The IRS, DMC and Toronto Police have one thing in common. These three organizations have found a way to overcome organizational fears and concerns to connect on social media. While these may not be the sexiest social media implementations, they are beacons to other organizations. Their social media engagement is proof that it’s possible to create your own path through the social media ecosystem despite having highly regulated, bureaucratic, privacy and security challenges.  Here are tactics that they used that you can apply to your business.

  1. Provides useful information. The IRS breaks their complex content into bite size tips. Even highly regulated firms can do this and even get legal approval. What makes this palatable for organizations? The fact that the main information resides on their own website and the communication is one way. In essence the social media helps expand their message distribution in a social media acceptable way without marketing promotion.
  2. Gives the public another channel to communicate with them. The Toronto Police leverage social media to augment the communications channels with the public. They take the flip perspective of the IRS by allowing the public to talk to them. Think about how brilliant this is. The target audience they want to reach, specifically people with information about crimes or potential crimes, doesn’t want to talk to them directly.
  3. Find human stories to amplify. DMC sources stories within its organization to broaden its reach. Stories are at the heart of social media. The stories that it’s chosen are ones that have a universal appeal. Who isn’t rooting for the bride as she walks down the aisle?

If these organizations have found a way to use social media to reach out and connect, so can your organization. What’s critical to remember is that it’s about contributing to the larger community and that you can be selective in how you choose to use social media.

Do you have any other examples that you can share? If so, please do so in the comment section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Big hat tip to Jeff Pulver for providing a bigger forum for these stories at the 140 Character Conference.

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Photo credit: Dryhead via Flickr

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