By Jeffrey Davis, Van Eperen

A few years ago I was in California speaking at a national conference of college presidents, leading a “Twitter Tutorial.”

After walking my students through the ins and outs, tips and tricks for using Twitter (and yes, I recognized the irony of me standing at the podium, teaching a room full of accomplished Ph.Ds at the pinnacle of their higher ed careers), one university leader brought us back to the basics.

“What should we tweet about?” he asked.

My answer: “Get started, share your experiences and what you’re thinking, and you’ll find your rhythm and style. The main thing is don’t be boring.”

That advice resonated as many followed up with me and used the “don’t be boring” guidance as reminder of how Twitter works best.

Tweets during the recent UMBC vs. University of Virginia men’s basketball game, the greatest upset in NCAA men’s tournament history, is a perfect example of how that advice works in real-time. The account could have posted updates about the game, announced the latest score and shared a few photos.

But not the UMBC Athletic Department account, managed by UMBC alumnus Zach Seidel, and whose mastery of @UMBCAthletics helped it surge from around 5,000 followers to more than 75,000 overnight. You have to view the account for the full picture, but a few examples:

Second Half about to start, no matter what happens we just want you all to remember……we are conveniently located just outside of Baltimore and have stellar academics

It’s v v loud in here, either cuz they just restocked the hot dogs or because we are up 45-29 with 11:39 to go

We’re up 12 on Virginia with 4:07 left, but more importantly we heard their (sic) may be some cookies left in the media dining area, will report back soon

We’re up 17 with 3:29 to go thanks to a Lamar three, BUT the media dining is out of cookies and this is the worst day ever

C’MON GUYS, you crashed our dang website, our IT people wanna watch the game too, please form an orderly line

[And, as time expired and in all caps, a reference to Louisiana rapper and hip-hop entrepreneur Birdman]:

PUT SOME RESPECK ON IT! WE HAVE DEFEATED NO.1 OVERALL SEED VIRGINIA 74-54

In my view, here’s what enabled Seidel to reel off such a memorable string of tweets (and deliver lessons for companies looking to up their social media game):

Trust Your Team – Hire the best, set the tone and give your social team the authority to do their thing. Tweets by committee usually aren’t that great, and you can forget about real-time or quick engagement.

Introduce Memes and Pics into Your Mix – Amidst the flurry, Seidel was cool enough share memes, pop culture references and even dip into the archives to post a photo of a University of Maryland fan from an earlier matchup (who was holding a sign calling UMBC University of Maryland Backup College)

Ahh we remember this game at Maryland in December….hopefully you enjoyed our game from your couch dude!

Engage with the Commenters, Take on the Haters – In UMBC’s case, some were high profile sports broadcasters who dared to pick UVA, others not so high profile, including a critic with 10 followers who has since taken his account private. The point is social media is…social. Two way. Listen for comments or questions and respond.

Juggle – Make sure your social team has a grasp on a variety of posting techniques and etiquette. A team to deliver the basics (score, facts about the company, etc.) but can just as easily juggle retweets, insert a meme here and there, take a few good-natured swipes at detractors, and provide commentary to make the account…not boring.

Lighten Up, Francis – If you think you have to play it straight just because you’re B-to-B or a big business or government bureaucracy, take a look at how others have faced this challenge. TSA has a fascinating Instagram stream showing the what-were-they-thinking? stuff people try to bring onto planes. One week it was a stun gun disguised as lipstick at BWI Airport. Not only are the photos interesting, the humorous replies by the TSA educate the public while showing the human side of a government security force. The CIA’s first tweet set the tone for what could have been be a stiff and all-business government account: “We can neither confirm nor deny this is our first tweet.” So well-received, it made BuzzFeed’s list of “The Most Epic Tweets Ever Tweeted.” The CIA uses social media to humanize the agency by adding personality to posts through humor and pop cultural references. If the CIA can do this, most organizations can.

“The best Twitter accounts, the ones I see, are the ones that have a personality,” Seidel told SB Nation. “They are not just tweeting out, ‘We hit a three. We are up by one point.’ Answer people! Make some jokes! Have some fun! Twitter is a place where you interact, so have some interaction.”

About the Author: Jeffrey Davis, managing partner with Van Eperen (@contactjeff on Twitter), heads the strategic communications agency’s Baltimore office. Van Eperen is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

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