Archive | July, 2009

Oh no he didn’t – David Cameron’s thoughts on twitter

29 Jul

As you all know, we are running a survey into MPs’ and politicos’ use of twitter. Part of the survey asks why are there so few Tory MPs tweeting in comparison to Labour and Lib-Dem MPs. We also ask which party gets social media.

I’m sure anyone who follows politics through social media may have seen or heard about the interview with David Cameron on Absolute Radio this morning, essentially making a jibe at twitter and having a good joke with Chris O’Connell on the breakfast show.

Essentially Mr Cameron was asked if he used twitter and his reply was “politicians have to think about what we say” and the instantaneous nature of twitter can lead to a problem of keeping on message and not being able to get a message across in 140 characters. This is a reasonable and legitimate argument against the use of twitter as a political engagement tool, albeit one I disagree with.

But these perfectly reasonable points led to a bit of a gaffe when Mr Cameron said “too many twits might make a twat.” Oh dear.

Funny at the time maybe and I’m sure absolutely no offence intended -he clearly didn’t call people who use twitter twats, but in the blogosphere and twitterverse, eyebrows have been raised. If you search for Cameron on the Twitter search engine today, most of the tweets are focusing on this. I personally feel it shows a lack of awarness of the medium by the Tory Leader. The fact that this message has spread well-past normal Absolute FM listeners shows the power of social media. Even if you aren’t on twitter yourself, the message is still instantaneously released as Mr Cameron found out. He has since apologised for his slip up.

It also shows an inherent lack of understanding of the medium by UK politicians generally. Tools like twitter should be used to create calls-to-action for public engagement. Examples include asking followers to come to rallies or events, calling for support on specific issues, making people aware of campaigns.

Twitter, politically speaking, isn’t just for stating what you are having for breakfast or with marked frustration, tweeting how many letters you have opened today, as one MP did I noticed, although tweets like these do personalise the user, so they should be interspersed with the calls to action.

News outlets have jumped on the Cameron interview. The Guardian, the Telegraph, the Times, Sky, Reuters, the Press Association to name but a few, have all made comment on Mr Cameron’s choice of words and Labour List are currently having a field day.

The slip up won’t lose Cameron too many votes, but the question remains, does Mr Cameron and the team not get social media, or do they just not get breakfast radio?

Below is the video of the interview embedded from the Absolute Radio YouTube site – let me know your thoughts



Civil Servants to come out of the digital shadows

28 Jul

Civil servants come out from the shadows

The Government has published its Template Twitter Strategy for Government Departments (even more impressively, it is available for download on a Scribd page), suggesting to civil servants to begin tweeting and explaining how to do it, with the ultimate aim of improving public engagment.

The document is a really interesting, well put-together twitter template. It sets out pros and cons, twitter stats, a glossary and a reasonably significant list of influential twitter uses including journos, departments, MPs. It also has devised twitter objectives and metrics, which I’m sure will spur plenty of debate amongst bloggers and tweeters.

Written by Neil Williams (a.k.a @neillyneil), a self admitted “Web strategy geek at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills,” the document advises civil servants, particularly those from the digital comms teams, to tweet on departmental campaigns, news releases, ministerial announcements, highlighting content on other social media platforms such as YouTube and even asking and answering questions.

Amazingly, this all means that civil servants will be crawling out of the shadows of Whitehall and will have a face, albeit a digital one. By encouraging interaction, there will be a transparency and two-way communication that, possibly, has never existed in Whitehall before.

Tom Watson MP, the first blogging Parliamentarian and avid social media nut, was also on the Today programme on Radio 4, spruiking the benefits of social media and, in particular Twitter, as a method of communication and interaction.

Tom Watson also made the point that many old mandarins still get their secretaries to print out the mandarin’s emails for review.

MPs are similar; we are currently surveying Parliamentarians and politicos about the use of twitter in Westminster. There are indeed MPs like Tom Watson, who was among a number of MPs on the Independent’s list of influential parliamentarian twitter, who are actively involved on the blogosphere and many of those listed have actively participated in our survey. But the truth is many still don’t get it and don’t see the point.

But surely, strategies like this show that social media has been adopted by the main stream and the idea that social media is just for kids, computer geeks and a small sector of society is no longer true. The powers that be have recognised the revolution will be digitalised and they have no choice but to get on board.

If you are interested in this issue and you would like to take our survey on the use of twitter in Westminster and Whitehall, we would more than appreciate your comments.

Cross-posted with the Ruder Finn Dot Comms blog

Norwich North by-election – what does it mean?

23 Jul

Today is a big test for the government. Even though everyone from local authorities to MPs to civil servants essentially went on holidays this week, the Norwich North by-election is going to cause consternation, exasperation and exaltation for one or another party in Westminster.

The seat, vacated by the widely respected Dr Ian Gibson after he was told he would not be allowed to run in the next election under the Labour flag after the expenses scandal, is now being hotly contested. While a number of news outlets have said Dr Gibson had a very good chance of winning again even if he ran as an independent, he has decided not to and there now are 12 candidates vying for the seat.

There is an outside chance Labour could scrape through by some landmark upset, although when candidate Chris Ostrowski was struck down with swine flu this week, effectively stopping any vital last minute campaigning, the chance of upset probably went out the window. There are suggestions that the Green candidate, Rupert Read could have a chance due to the unusually high number of Green candidates sitting on local authorities in the area. But combined with the presence of the Liberal-Democrat April Pond, any left leaning vote is going to be split leaving the Tory candidate, Chloe Smith, a young high-flying Conservative who is tipped for an extremely bright future, favourite to win.

But the real question is what happens after the election is announced? If the win to the Tories is massive, the leadership rumbles surrounding Brown will inevitably start again. There already seems to be increasing mumblings coming from sectors of the Labour Party. On the 12th of July, a number of female MPs attacked Brown for being ‘laddish’, while just last week Former Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell spoke to the press about his resignation from the Cabinet before the local elections in June. By equating New Labour to Britpop by saying “it was absolutely right for its time, but that time was 1994″, Purnell tried to turn the knife in Brown. These are ominous omens indeed.

While Blair was Teflon Tony, Brown must be likened to an underdog boxcar boxer fighting Mike Tyson. Brown has been pummelled so badly, a normal man would have fallen, but somehow, he has held on. Every now and then, he looks like he has composed himself and maybe fighting back, but then he gets hit again and he begins to stagger. One suspects there is only a matter of time before that knock-out punch comes, but the question is, will it be sooner or later and how badly will he be injured after the Norwich North result?

Cross posted with Ruder Finn Dot Comms

British MPs start to communicate

7 Jul
John Prescott's twitter page

John Prescott's twitter page

I was just pointed to a really interesting gallery on The Independent’s website titled Twitter’s speedy move to the centre of politics. The gallery is compiled with the help from the team at Tweetminister, which is a really useful resource that lists all tweeting MPs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs).

What I really find interesting about it and is obviously the point of the gallery, is the evolution of twitter use by Parliamentarians. Initially, when I first joined twitter around 18 months ago, I think there were only one, maybe two MPs tweeting. Now according to the Independent, there are at least 66 MPs tweeting – 10% of the Commons. What’s even more exciting is that the vast majority of those MPs are active tweeters. Sure you have MPs such as @HarrietHarman who hasn’t tweeted since May and there is Shahid Malik (@DewsburyMP) who has never posted, but you also have avid users such as Kerry McCarthy [Lab] – Bristol East with 2623 updates, Jo Swinson [LD] – East Dunbartonshire with 1503 and of course Tom Watson [Lab] – West Bromwich East with 2368. There are apparently also 13 Ministers tweeting away.

Some MPs have even got so involved they have tinted their profiles green in support of the Iranian protestors. This may be a slightly questionable in terms of foreign policy decisions, but the fact is these MPs actively involved in the political social media revolution.

Most surprisingly, possibly in the majority of cases, it is actually them tweeting and not a researcher hidden away in Portcullis house as proven by @JoSwinson who tweets from the Chamber. And they reply if you contact them.

So the moral here is that there is a growing awareness of the power of twitter and social media in Westminster and this is surely going to grow. Twitter, facebook and other tools are becoming more and more legitimate ways to contact and engage with MPs and other key decision makers. I can only guess about what is to come especially in the lead up to the General Election.

Cross posted with Ruder Finn Dot Comms