published a first draft of an official guide to using Twitter for UK government officials. The guide clocks in at 20 pages, 5,392 words and 36,215 characters - or approximately 259 tweets. The guide explains what Twitter and related social media tools are and how to use them at a very basic level. One section of the guide also explains third-party tools like bit.ly, monitter, and tweetbeep.com.UK government officials won't have to rely on randomly tweeting without any official guidance anymore. Neil Williams, the Head of Corporate Digital Channels at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills just
Tom Watson, a former Labour minister and prolific blogger and Twitterer, argued on the BBC today that the guide was mostly written for aging government officials who generally have their secretaries print out their emails.
A number of UK government officials and departments already use Twitter, including the Foreign Office and the Communities and Local Government Department. With Andrew Stott, the UK Cabinet Office also has its own "director of digital engagement."
As the AP points out, most governments in Europe have only had moderate success on Twitter, though quite a few UK government accounts have a large number of followers and the Prime Minister's account has over 1 million followers.
A couple of interesting points from the guide:
- Whitehall staff should not follow users uninvited in order to avoid being accused of "Big Brother" style behavior - they can follow users back who follow them first, though
- tweets should be written in a human style ("informal spoken English") and go beyond links to press releases and announcements
- tweets should be frequent, timely, and credible
- tweets should include exclusive content, including insights from ministers
- all posts have to be cleared by staff at the Information Officer grade and above
Provide Thought Leadership, Monitor Twitter
A section about the government's objectives states that officials should use Twitter to provide thought leadership and give citizens a low-barrier method for interacting with government departments.
Williams also advises officials to monitor Twitter for mentions of "our brand, our Ministers and flagship policy initiatives, engaging with our critics and key influencers."
Interestingly, Williams also advices departments to post a Twitter Policy on their websites and link to it from their Twitter profiles. This policy includes information about what followers can expect (2-10 tweets a day, type of contents, etc.), as well as a notice that being followed back by a department "does not imply endorsement of any kind." The policy also states that staff will only respond during office hours, Monday to Friday (which might be a bit limiting given that social media doesn't exactly take a break on the weekend).
Overall, within the boundaries of what governments can do within social media without hitting the limits of what would be seen as acceptable and without breaking the governments' own rules, this guide seems extremely level-headed and contains numerous useful pieces of advice for individuals and businesses who are just discovering Twitter.