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UK government issue 20 page guide on Twitter

Rachel Hawkes (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 28 July 2009

“Twitter more” says British government


The British government is encouraging civil servants to tweet more with 20 page guideline

Department for Business Innovation and Skills LogoThe British government has published guidelines for its departments on using the microblogging service Twitter.  The guidelines urge departments to ‘tweet’ more, for up to an hour a day.

The 20 page document, which was developed by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), aims to set out a clear process and set of objectives for using the widely popular social networking service.  It guides government officials using Twitter on how they can avoid inappropriate use, including how not to appear like ‘Big Brother.'

Neil Williams, head of corporate digital channels at BIS says he understands that people may think that a 20 page strategy is over the top for a service that is restricted to 140 characters.  Suprised at just how much there was to say when writing the document, Williams comments, BIS Twitter accounts“Microblogging is a low-barrier to entry, low-risk and low-resource channel relative to other corporate communications overheads like a blog or printed newsletter. And the pioneers in corporate use of Twitter by central government (see No 10, CLG and FCO) all started as low-profile experiments and grew organically into what they are today.”

The strategy document covers four main areas; objectives and measurement, risks and mitigation, channel proposition and management and promotion.  The guidelines set out that success can be measured by the number of followers, @replies, DMs (direct messages) and RTs (re-tweets), and how successful it is in turning individual cases of negative to positive and positive to brand advocates.  Another key area for success it said, was the the overall impact the feedback coming from the Twitter community has on the department.

Template Twitter Strategy for Government Departments

Twitter strategy for government Departments’ urges civil tweeters that if they find themselves getting inundated with messages and criticisms, to not respond to individual tweets, but rather themes.  Williams also advises civil tweeters should source varied content and accept that there will be criticism regardless of what they do.  The guidelines also warn against departments following any Twitter users that aren’t already following them, as it could be interpreted as ‘Big Brother’ behaviour and to tweet in spoken English in a manner that is human and credible.

Williams says that once he sat down to write a proper plan for the BIS corporate Twitter account, he was surprised at just how much there was to say and how much of it was worth saying particularly as the medium has matured and is less forgiving of mistakes.  He goes on to reveal his plans for version two, “I’d like to set down how and when civil servants should support, encourage and manage Ministers’ use of Twitter for Departmental business (and navigate the minefield of propriety this might imply), and add a light touch policy for officials who tweet about their work in a personal capacity.”

Commenting on the benefits he has seen personally since writing the document , Williams says its been easier to get buy-in and explain Twitter’s value to the unconvinced and those that throw up accusations of ‘bandwagon-jumping.’ 

The Department of BIS’ “Twitter strategy for government Departments” comes just days after the microblogging service launched its own 101 guide for businesses Tweeting.

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