Study: Two-Way Twitter Engagement Boosts Followers

Are you working to justify a new social media position in your department? With ever-tightening budgets, this can be a nearly-insurmountable task. And though many so-called social media “experts” laud the benefits of a two-way communication strategy, there’s remarkably little quantifiable evidence out there that agencies can use to justify a new position or spending time on a bidirectional strategy. To help address this problem, my master’s thesis research explored the question of “Does two-way engagement on Twitter lead to an increase in followers?” The answer is “yes.”

While my research focused on a case-study analysis of three law enforcement agencies in the heart of Silicon Valley, the results are likely applicable to any government discipline. I examined all 1,648 tweets sent by three police agencies (@SantaClaraPD, @MountainViewPD, and my own agency, @PaloAltoPolice) over a six-month period, as well as 363 self-initiated tweets sent by users to the agencies (and to which they replied). The agencies that used a two-way communication strategy (i.e., responding to inquiries from the public, replying to tweets by other users, and so forth) received more new followers over the study period than the agency that used the very common one-way “push” strategy that ignores inquiries (what I refer to as the “digital bullhorn”). Having a large number of followers in advance of a crisis is of critical importance, especially to public safety agencies like police and fire departments, as more people will receive the agency’s message without the filter or potential “spin” of a third-party intermediary like a mainstream media outlet.

My research also came up with seven recommendations for social media managers looking to increase opportunities for two-way engagement. These recommendations include specific information on what categories of topics tend to generate the most responses from the public, how agencies should take advantage of opportunities for exceptional follower growth, how the different methods of replying to a tweet can affect engagement levels, how agencies should self-initiate reply tweets to other Twitter users in appropriate situations, and more.

If you’re looking to justify a new social media position in your agency, or if you’re hoping to convince your management that there is a benefit to allowing you to respond to user inquiries on social media and actually engage your residents in ongoing online conversations, I’d encourage you to check out my thesis and see if it can give you some quantifiable data to use to your advantage. You can download the document for free in its entirety here:

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.

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