Friday, August 7, 2009

Twitter in Government? Strategy from Across the Pond

Previously posted at GTEC.CA Blog:

Last week a fascinating and very useful guide to Twitter for Government was published by Neil Williams, head of corporate digital channels at the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The blog post and full 20 page report linked here: Digital Engagement Blog

While specific to ‘official’ department use of Twitter, even seasoned Twitter users can learn something new about using this increasingly popular micro-blogging communication service.

Four key topics are covered:

1. Objectives and Metrics – why to use it and how to assess value

2. Risks and Mitigation – how contain potential risks to reputation

3. Channel proposition and management – how to populate and use it

4. Promotional plan – how to promote the presence and increase its reach

The document also includes a very useful glossary, providing a great overview of social media and Twitter terms.

What struck me as interesting?

  • Twitter is being incorporated as part of a larger strategy of the UK government to better engage citizens. It provides a low-barrier to entry allowing people to interact with their public institutions and let them experience live coverage of events when they cannot attend in person.
  • The policy offers clear communication on what constitutes inappropriate content, the importance of ‘light’ but effective procedural controls and guidelines for Twitter users, and how to proactively avoid potential ‘hacks’, misrepresentation or vandalism of content.
  • “Tone of Voice” must be considered and articulated to ensure consistency especially when the account is managed by a team (great tip for any public or private sector corporate social media outreach)
  • Content should be varied, have a human touch, be timely, credible and inclusive. The report’s tips on frequency, ‘re-tweeting’, use of hashtags (ie, metadata for Twitter updates), hyperlink shortening tools, how to balance humour and fun – these pointers demonstrate thoughtfulness and a good understanding of how to build and maintain a solid list of followers.
  • UK is thinking longer term – including how Twitter may evolve one day into a new source of intake for Ministerial Correspondence systems – and whether these departmental professionals should begin monitoring and responding to Twitter enquiries.
The fundamental missing piece to this otherwise excellent guideline is articulated very well by Gartner’s Andrea DiMaio in an earlier blog post. What’s not covered is: “whether and how individual government employees should use it to better fulfill their tasks”. In other words, while it is a good guideline to create an institutional presence, it is thin on how and why the people working for that institution can or should use social media channels as part of their job. Perhaps there will be a part 2?

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