Twitter connects Boys State delegates, staff

Today’s youth are communicating with family and friends through online social networking sites, such as Facebook. As the use of interactive, real-time communication technology continues to grow rapidly among American Legion youth program participants, South Carolina Palmetto Boys State (PBS) staff joined in the discussion and enhanced its program for 2012. In doing so, they registered for another popular networking tool: Twitter.

"For all things that Twitter is, it’s also important to our boys; it’s something they use day in and day out," said Stephen Lewis, Palmetto Boys State director. "If we are going to have an interesting program for our boys, our program has to be relevant. Twitter is relevant to them."

During the fall 2012 American Legion Americanism Conference in Indianapolis, Lewis and Chase Stoudenmire, a PBS media associate, explained how they effectively used Twitter and encouraged the delegates to do the same.

First, PBS created a free Twitter account, @scboysstate, as well as a hashtag - #PBS2012 - to channel tweets for its 2012 Boys State program. A hashtag is used to mark key words or topics within a tweet to retain a historical record of all conversations. Then, during orientation, staff informed delegates and their parents of PBS’ Twitter by distributing index cards that featured links to the program’s Twitter site, Facebook page and YouTube channel.

"We told the delegates that we wanted them to send messages to @scboysstate and use the #PBS2012 whenever they’re having conversations about things relevant to this program," Stoudenmire said. "The delegates became creative and used it for purposes that we didn’t even imagine."

Many of the nearly 900 young men either had a Twitter account prior to participation in PBS or created one in effort to tweet about the program. The delegates used PBS’ Twitter site as a forum for city spirit and cheers and to campaign for votes, share thoughts on candidates running for city elections, and communicate with Palmetto Girls State.

Meanwhile, PBS staff used Twitter to provide instant communication to an internal and external audience. "Any type of conversation that was happening in the program and between peers, we made visible for staff members and people (parents and PBS alumni) outside of the program," Stoudenmire said. "Twitter creates dynamism with what’s happening at Boys State that you can’t capture with any other technology."

PBS used its Twitter account to:

  • Announce city election results are available on its website,
  • Promote interviews with program speakers.
  • Ask delegates to provide comments about each speaker who addressed them.
  • Ask delegates what they thought about each city’s banner or about the quality of food that day.
  • Have live questions during its gubernatorial debate. The two candidates stood on stage and their peers were asked to tweet what they wanted each candidate to answer. PBS staff assigned a few delegates to be moderators of the tweets, compile their favorite ones and feature them on the screen. "You are engaging your audience deeper into the program with this technology rather than letting this technology be a distraction," Stoudenmire said.
  • Make announcements after the program such as the shipping date of the program’s DVDs.

Stoudenmire emphasized that it’s important to monitor the Twitter account because only those tweeting to @scboysstate have the ability to delete their posts. However, with nearly 900 young men tweeting, only one delegate was asked to remove a comment.

Once PBS featured a link to its Twitter site on its website, alumni and other Boys State programs tweeted well-wishes to the incoming class. Alumnus Ryan Raines tweeted, "To the new guys going to @scboysstate, have fun! Say goodbye to the old you because your life is about to change forever!" And the tweets kept coming long after 2012 PBS ended. One delegate tweeted, "I’d take a 6 a.m. wakeup over a 10 a.m. just for a few more days of @scboysstate."

"Twitter is effectively creating a new textural space for conversation," Stoudenmire said. "It’s giving people, who are on senior staff and have other roles that don’t allow them to engage with the students directly, the opportunity to keep a finger on the pulse of the program — which is a living, breathing, dynamic organism. Getting started is as simple as registering for a free Twitter account and go. Your students will run with it."