Three things I do every morning before email and meetings hijack my day:
- Write in my diary.
- Solve Wordle.
- Check Twitter to see what's up with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.
The obvious question is... You play Wordle?
The obvious question is: Uhhhh... an Ohio sewer company?
I don't live in greater Cleveland.
I have zero interest in regional stormwater management or wastewater treatment. (You could say I don't give a dam. << That pun wrote itself.)
BUT! There I am. Every morning. Checking on the infrastructure in a city I don't live in.
It's not just me. NEORD's Twitter account
has a national following
. It's full of useful info, warmth, humor, puns, life advice, and warnings. Like: "Flushable" wipes are your plumbing's worst nightmare!
Mmm okay... But why is it special? I have theories.
* * *
"We're glad we've found a way to better connect people with the unseen systems they rely on every day," said John Gonzalez, the sewer district's communication manager who launched its Twitter account in 2010.
I like that John (who's been at the sewer district for almost 23 years!) writes and manages it himself—not through an agency.
I have questions, John. How did NEORD get a national following of 33K followers? How is it so compelling? Why do we care about an Ohio sewer district? And why the hate for flushable wipes?
So I asked him.
* * *
Me: Has your Twitter approach always been quirky?
John: We established a social media presence to build trust, raise awareness, and connect with customers. [W]e used [Twitter and Facebook] to communicate basic aspects of our work: project updates, meeting details, event announcements, and customer service.
But as the social platforms changed... so have their users' expectations.
We found that a more conversational and informal approach to Twitter...helped build trust with followers.
In our work, humor and even some unexpected emotional honesty helped people see the human side of infrastructure.
Me: Why trust?
John: We want our customers to know us and trust us as a service provider. Our voice on Twitter has accomplished both of those for sure.
Our Twitter followers talk to us like a friend because they feel as though they know us personally.
Me: How do you/did you get buy-in from execs?
John: We started by creating online accounts with our Cleveland newspaper so we could jump into the comments sections of stories. When news about us hit the papers, our presence was there to provide relevant links and additional context.
That kind of presence, transparency, and responsiveness allowed us to explore Twitter and Facebook because leadership trusted our ability to be responsive and responsible.
I worked with a member of our IT team to develop social media guidelines to show leadership we understood the opportunities and could manage the risk.
They bought in and we got started.
Me: Yes but the poop jokes? The poetry...? Trolling flushable wipes?
John: It wasn't a day-one decision. We started to take a more conversational tone over time. And since we were already open to making jokes and puns in other campaign messaging and materials, it was an easy transition to commit to that same creativity on our social.
We can balance sentiment and service, helpfulness and humor....
Our expansion to poetry, comedy, and "life advice" content fit into comms strategy by capturing the attention with our audience in a way that allows us to open conversations with people about our work.
Me: What do you personally love most about your social presence?
John: I love that our Twitter offers people something of value.
Even people well outside of our service area, from cities all across the country, say they follow us and see infrastructure differently because of our Twitter.
Me: You have other followers like me, from outside Ohio? You make me feel less special when you say that... But fine. So what else stands out for you?
John: Two new employees told me directly that our Twitter presence was a key factor in applying for their jobs. They said they felt like it represented something they wanted to be a part of.
(That interview ^^ was edited for length and clarity.)
* * *
Let's get back to the original question I asked at the start of this newsletter: What's special about NEORD's Twitter account?
The more social media ages and evolves, the more the major platforms start to look and act alike—twinning like old marriage couples. (But less wholesome.)
Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn have rolled out newsletter publishing capabilities.
The tone and vibe of LinkedIn are starting to feel more like Facebook's.
My Instagram Reels is full of TikTok reposts.
Twitter Communities mimics Facebook Groups.
In 2022, there's something wholesome about a Twitter account that is just a simple Twitter account. Celebrating invisible infrastructure we rely on every day but never think about.
And trolling flushable wipes without mercy.
(They really are lying to us. They are not flushable. NEORD shows the clogs to prove it.)
* * *
There's not a lot to unpack with the Twitter account. It's just chugging along, curating local news like a beast. Cracking jokes. Doing its thing.
And that's why it works.
Our social feeds are stuffed to the seams with heartbreaking news and anger and hot takes.
Twitter itself is wrapped in this warped Elon Musk/Twitter love/hate melodrama. The two feel like that twisted couple who keep dating even though everyone knows they are a terrible match who will someday light their mattress on fire.
And then there's @NEOSD. Showing up with useful info, puns, poetry, and comedy. Celebrating city infrastructure and the role it plays in our lives.
It's so simple.
But in 2022, it feels subversive.
* * *
THE ACCESSIBLE HULK