Revealed: The government's Twitter strategy

Dan Martin
Former editor
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I came across a very interesting document today courtesy of a post in our social media discussion group. It reveals that Twitter isn't just being talked about by bloggers and the celebrity press; it's also a big topic of discussion in the corridors of power.

Published on social publishing network Scribd, which in itself is worth looking at, is a 20-page document outlining the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' (BIS) Twitter strategy and the suggested ways it could be rolled out to other departments. BIS recently joined Twitter and the document implies that the digital experts who are advising ministers are certainly taking it seriously.

It outlines a very detailed approach; for example, it is suggested that departments post "a minimum 2 and maximum 10 tweets per working pay, with a minimum gap of 30 minutes between tweets to avoid flooding our followers' Twitter streams" and being "human", "varied, "re-tweetable", "timely" and "credible" is called for.

There is even an acknowledgement of how an "imbalance between 'following' and 'follower' figures can result in poor Twitter reputation" as well as the revelation that Downing Street tweets on average 20 minutes a day while the Central Office of Information's Digital Policy department (somewhat ironically) only tweets for 5 to 10 minutes. I could go on but I'll leave you to peruse the full document below.

My thoughts on the document are that it's great to see Twitter and other social media networks being considered by the powers that be. However, what worries me is by getting all caught up in creating a "strategy", the government won't get out as much out of Twitter as it could if it used it properly.

I have already criticised the @digigov feed for the lack of conversation and the over-reliance on posting links to press releases and re-tweeting other government department's tweets. The person running the account has acknowledged my criticism and asked for feedback which is good but the government still has a long way to go.

Imposing a 10 tweet a day limit on departments completely misses the point. You can't script something that should be reactionary. Civil servants should be scanning the Twitterverse for questions they can answer and feedback they can take on board. If they really want to involve businesses and the public in shaping government policy, that's the only way it can done. [EDIT - document author has pointed out that it does exclude @replies to other users from the maximum 10 tweets a day limit].

Of course, ministers and the officials that work for them are always going to need some sort of guidelines when getting involved in sites like Twitter but it's important they don't get lost in the paperwork and forget the fact that using social media effectively is actually quite simple. It's a two-way conversation that's all about engagement.

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By neilojwilliams
23rd Jul 2009 08:33
Thanks for the edit following our conversation on Twitter. To summarise that conversation here: I absolutely take your point about over-strategising, and indeed blogged a defence from that angle when I published the paper (see: My intention in writing this document was to plan carefully (for my own benefit, and for senior managers who may not have experienced Twitter themselves) how and why we will use Twitter and justify its value the extra activity (at taxpayers' expense) - not to set limits and rules. I think my wording could have been clearer in the sections you have quoted here. The 2-10 tweets per day guide was intended to communicate the fact that it's not good to broadcast too many corporate messages all day long, better to engage and converse. Glad you discovered the document and covered it here (although your 'revealed' headline is a little disingenuous, seeing as this is something we published ourselves, and then mentioned on UK Business Forums ourselves...)
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