I examined the usability of online texts in my dissertation. I sketched five recommendations for social media editors, based on my research and on my article, The City on Twitter. The five recommendations each appear as a Word of the Week.
Social media is based on interaction. Characteristic features for interactive texts include personal pronouns, addresses, questions, answers and requests: ”Influence how and where you do your business” or ”Are we going get all services on our phones?”. Interactivity also shows up in the ways that the writer invites the recipient to take an interest in the text.
Traditional one-way communication for the public sector tends to move to social media. Twitter communication from cities, for example, consists mainly of headline-like announcements. Standard practice for online official communications greatly influences how they express interactivity. On government sites, writers will address the reader in the opening and in Q&A sections, but in the body of the text, based on traditional official document style, it’s rare to find anything that directly addresses the reader.
While cities strongly emphasize interactivity in their own social media guides, in practice communication is still mainly one-way. This is especially true on Twitter, even though interactive tweets get more reactions and have more effect. Sharing press releases fails to either support discussion or democratize participation.
According to my research, social media updates include more interactive language features than other online texts. The use of a familiar channel even seems to add interactive features to the updates. When it comes to social media in general, having a direct connection for discussion tends to increase an official’s readiness to engage with readers.