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23/06/2014

Career development: Twitter for planners

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Twitter logo on screen

Twitter – beloved of tabloid hacks, attention-seeking celebs and chattering fops. Why should you use it as a planner? Simon Wicks offers an ABC for those who don’t know their hashtag from their bitly

Twitter is not for everyone. But for planners it can be a convenient way to keep up with news and talking points, and a tool for making and maintaining connections.

Some planners are even using Twitter as a public engagement tool; results suggest that it reaches people that conventional consultations cannot reach.

As people who like information, analysis and debate, it’s no surprise that plenty of planners are using the medium. The vibrancy of their exchanges may well be enough to persuade you, too, to join the fray.

What is Twitter?

Twitter is an internet-based instant messaging service that enables you to send and receive messages (or ‘tweets’) of up to 140 characters.
Messages can be transmitted publicly or privately and contain clickable links to web pages.

The medium can be accessed on all internet-enabled devices through the Twitter website or third-party ‘apps’, many of which have more powerful features than the website alone.Essentially, your voice is one in a stream of millions of voices that comprise the “Twittersphere”. But you only have to listen to the voices that you want to hear. By choosing whom you “follow” you create your own unique channel.Why use it?

Because Twitter has a talkative community of planners, architects, designers, urbanists, environmentalists, builders, journalists, academics, politicians, social campaigners – you name it.

It is easy to dismiss these Twitter users as the “chattering classes”, distracted by trivialities. But many are significant figures within planning and related fields – the people who shape policy, influence opinion, make decisions and spread information.

Twitter’s informality encourages them to speak with more candour than other media. Its pithy style is also ideal for passing on links to news stories, research reports and other information.

What can you use Twitter for?

  • Topical research
  • News of the day
  • Talking points
  • Networking
  • Profile-raising
  • Promotion/marketing
  • Public engagement and consultation
  • Sharing information
  • Insight – especially legal
  • Influencing and shaping opinion
  • Banter and conversation

What to tweet

No one is interested in what you had for breakfast, unless your breakfast was coffee and a bagel with Eric Pickles in the Shard while you were persuading him that wind turbines in the Thames would be spectacular.

Broadly, tweet:

  • Comments about planning issues
  • Links to relevant news stories, features and research reports
  • Successes of your organisation
  • Interesting (from a planning point of view) things that you are actually doing
  • Responses to questions and questions of your own
  • Personal observations about things you see and do. (But not too personal or trivial – preserve your dignity.)

Twitter Dos and Don'ts

DO:

1 Be interesting and interested in equal measure

2 Find your niche

3 Only follow the best

4 Time your tweeting

5 Make the #hashtag your friend

DON’T:

1 Rush your tweets or make them too conversational

2 Broadcast anything you wouldn’t wish to read yourself

3 Publish a tweet without checking for sense and simplicity

4 Tweet anything you wouldn’t exchange in conversation

5 Keep the application open and accessible while you are socialising.

With thanks to Anna McLean (@Plannnna) of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and Andrew Sim (@andysim), development planner with Fife Council and chair of the Scottish Young Planners Network Steering Group.


Professional vs personal

Twitter lends itself to informality and wit; these need not be triviality and bile. It is important to maintain your personal and professional dignity whatever the provocation or temptation to do otherwise. Remember that your tweet can be read by anyone.

Some personal observation is good, however, says Gordon Watson, director of operations at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

“I’ve had a Twitter account for three years,” he says. “It’s mainly professional, but I throw in a bit of personal. That makes it a good complement to the corporate tweet communication that we do.”

Who to follow

It is impossible to pull together anything approaching a definitive list – or even a getting-started list – because there are so many individuals and organisations on Twitter.

However, we do recommend that you follow the RTPI’s main Twitter feed (@RTPIplanners) and the RTPI’s head of policy, Richard Blyth (@RichardBlyth7).

A good tactic is to look at who they communicate with, follow these people and work your way from there.

Getting started

1 Sign up at www.twitter.com. You’ll need a ‘username’. You may find that your own name is already taken, so try a variation or go for something else that says something about why you’re on Twitter – e.g., ‘ThePlannerman’.

2 Create a profile. Keep it brief, giving people ‘need to know’ information about you. Here’s an example: Town planning consultant & chartered surveyor acting throughout the UK for applications & appeals. Tweeting news, views & ideas on planning & related issues.

3 Add a photo that represents you.

4 Add a link to your webpage or blog, to your organisation’s webpage or blog, or to your LinkedIn profile.

5 Download a Twitter app. They are generally better than the Twitter website itself. Popular apps include Tweetdeck and Hootsuite.

You’re now ready to go.

6 The first step, before tweeting is to ‘follow’ people. You can search the Twittersphere by person and topic to find specific individuals or conversations on topics that interest you.

7 Write your first tweet and hit send. It may take a little while to establish your ‘voice’, your connections and your credibility, but stick at it.

Tweet us your tips

If you're already on Twitter, we'd love to share your top Twitter tips. Leave your comments below or tweet us @ThePlanner_RTPI and we'll add your comments to this guide.

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