Insights from a new media pro on using Twitter to become a thought leader and cultivate an online audience.
By Bernadette PerezLast week,
we began our venture into describing the career-building power of Twitter with Tara Maller. As Associate Director of Communications for the Aspen Institute’s Franklin Project, Twitter has been an integral component of Tara’s day to day agenda in this new role, enhancing exposure and awareness for The Franklin Project. Today, we continue this discussion…What is the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute and how do you use Twitter to promote the Project and its mission?
The Franklin Project is a new venture by the Aspen Institute, which envisions a future where a year of fulltime national service—a service year—is a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, and a civic rite of passage for every young American. A young person would discharge his or her national service obligation by either serving in the military or as a civilian by completing a fulltime service year through programs such as Teach for America, AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps. For a service year (which would be completed at some point between the ages of 18-28), a small living allowance is provided, so that all young Americans have opportunities to serve.
We just started using Twitter to promote the Franklin Project mission, and we’ve been working with the Aspen Institute and our partner organizations to truly elevate the commitment to national service in this country. Part of this is making national service an active conversation in the media – both through traditional media and social media. The @AspenInstitute and @FranklinProj Twitter accounts both help us to accomplish this and enable us to interact with others doing truly inspiring work and serving our country in different ways.
How active are you on Twitter? On average, how many times do you tweet throughout the day?
There are no rules. Sometimes I'll send out one tweet. Other days there might be more than ten. For work-related tweets, I'll sometimes schedule them on HootSuite, but I tend to just tweet when I feel like it or when I’m killing time between meetings or waiting for someone who is running late to a meeting. To me, Twitter should not be forced. You have to get into a rhythm and something should move you in a certain way to make you want to RT (retweet) it, favorite it, or create original tweets about it.
How has your presence on Twitter been valuable to you?
For me, Twitter is valuable because it allows everyone to have a direct voice to a mass audience that is unfiltered, unscripted, and unedited by others. In other words, I have complete and full control over what I say and how I say it. And there is no limit to the reach it may potentially have and no time limits – just character limits. I can tweet from wherever I want, whenever I want, about whatever I want. Twitter has also greatly assisted me professionally by allowing me to stay on top of news and interact with people in a way that is different than simply sending an email.
Personally, I also love the serendipity that is inherent in Twitter. You never know who is going to interact with a particular tweet or what opportunity may result from a tweet. Just like with most things in life, it is like a big game of roulette. You throw a lot of chips on the table in the form of ideas, opinions and interactions and you don’t know which one is going to manifest into something interesting or spectacular. I've met work contacts via Twitter and used it to arrange meetings. I've ended up in a Twitter conversation about sanctions with Fran Townsend, a former Homeland Security advisor to President Bush and national security analyst with CNN, which resulted in a meeting with her about career and media advice. I’ve also used it for professional networking and to interact with individuals with whom I work and are in my field.
There have been some fun (and very random) Twitter interactions. For example, an article I wrote for CNN Opinion about women at the CIA was retweeted by David Harewood, who played David Estes on Homeland, which was pretty cool. Recently, I even used Twitter to get a meeting with Twitter and visit its DC offices, which was really awesome.
What advice can you give to women in DC looking to create a Twitter presence/personal brand and/or attract followers in a specific industry/field?
Think about the audience you are trying to attract and the reason you are using Twitter. There may be multiple audiences, and multiple reasons, so you need to calibrate your tweeting accordingly. For example, I tweet on behalf of myself, and I also tweet to promote the Franklin Project's mission at Aspen Institute, which is an extremely important mission. I create engaging content, while showing some of my personality and interests, so that my audience can feel more connected to me. I also try to promote the work of individuals I admire or whose work I like.
It is particularly important for women to be active on Twitter given their underrepresentation in more mainstream news outlets relative to men. We need to make a concerted effort to change this, and Twitter lets everyone have a voice. We should be doing our best to leverage this platform to heighten our voices on politics, technology, national security and other fields. I make a conscious effort to promote women’s voices particularly in the foreign policy realm. Given I do some of my own media work and publishing, I've used Twitter to distribute and promote my articles or clips, while promoting the work of my organization on a daily basis. Twitter is more like an art than a science – and it is essentially your own public canvas for ideas, thoughts, opinions, commentary, photos and conversations.
So, learning the basics of Twitter, while seemingly daunting at first, can become easier by adjusting to the language of Twitter. Twitter's own site offers the basic principles to get started. Additionally, Hootsuite, an app that allows busy users to calibrate tweets so that you're always staying relevant, is a great resource to maintain the consistency your followers see. You can directly download HootSuite (along with Twitter!) as an App on your Smartphone or tablet.
Twitter is today's version of what CNN's Breaking News alerts used to be. Follow who/what you like and what you're interested in. Often times if you know a person or company that are akin to your interests, check out what they’re tweeting along with who they follow. While most of us can't be the Kim Kardashians or Bill Clintons of Twitter, the brand you decide to create, or path you'd like to make in marketing yourself, is up to who you follow, what you comment on, and who you invest your time in. A simple tweet commenting on your favorite journalist's article or retweeting a link that resonates with you can open doors, and thus, opportunities...and if that door doesn't open right away, just keep tweeting!
About the Interviewee
Tara Maller serves as the Associate Director for Strategic Communications for the Franklin Project and as a research fellow in the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation. Previously, Tara worked at BrightWire Inc., where she served as the managing editor and managing director of Operations, Americas. Tara has also served as a military analyst at the CIA and published articles with ForeignPolicy.com, CNN.com, BlogsofWar.com, Bloomberg View, Al Jazeera America and The Huffington Post and appeared as a commentator on Bloomberg, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, Al Jazeera America and HuffPost Live. Tara is a member of the Truman National Security Project and a fellow with the Millennial Action Network. Tara received her B.A. from Dartmouth, M.A. in international relations from the University of Chicago, and Ph.D. in Political Science from MIT.
About the Author
Bernadette Perez received her undergraduate degree in International Relations with a concentration in U.S. Foreign Policy from American University in Washington, D.C. After her undergraduate studies, Bernadette spent several years at education policy think tanks in Washington, D.C., followed by serving at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in the Worldwide Government Policy Department. Upon departing from MPAA, Bernadette moved to Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia and spent the year traveling and touring that area of the world. Upon returning to Washington, D.C., Bernadette attended Graduate School at Georgetown University, graduating in May 2013 with a Masters in Liberal Studies and International Relations.