On July 21st, with a post on the Digital Engagement blog, Neil Williams, head of corporate digital channels at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in the UK government, shared a Template Twitter strategy for Government Departments.
This is a significant step forward not just for the UK but for many governments around the world who can now make reference to an existing strategy when considering Twitter as a channel for citizen outreach and communication.
Unfortunately the template falls short of expectation on what turns to be the most important aspect of digital engagement, i.e. whether and how individual government employees should use it to better fulfill their tasks.
In a previous post I discussed about the difference between the institutional presence and the individual presence on social media. The former is about how an organization presents itself and determines how social media can complement its own communications strategy. The latter is about how the organization should allow its employees (or otherwise) to use social media, for which purpose, using which metrics, and so forth.
The UK template is almost entirely geared toward helping departments define their institutional presence. In fact it says:
Though the account will be anonymous (i.e. no named officials will be running it) it is helpful to define a hypothetical ‘voice’ so that tweets from multiple sources are presented in a consistent tone (including consistent use of pronouns). The Department’s Twitter ‘voice’ will be that of the Digital Media Team, positioning the channel as an extension of the main The Department website – effectively an ‘outpost’ where new digital content is signposted throughout the day.
All examples of content relate to external, institutional communication:
updates on Ministers’ movements, Insights from Ministers, announcement and coverage of events, highlighting relevant research, events, awards etc elsewhere on the web to position the department as a thought leader, asking and answering questions (occasionally), crisis communications.
As far as how tweets get approved and published:
News releases will be cleared by the originating press desk only if paraphrased for Twitter. All other tweets will be cleared by staff at Information Officer grade and above in the digital media team, consulting relevant colleagues in comms and private offices as necessary.
The template is quite explicit in addressing only what I’ve called an institutional presence. Yet, there is room for improvement for this as well. One example is the suggestion that followers will be automatically followed. It may be the case that the Twitter etiquette requires follow-backs: personally I am not convinced, as Twitter is not based on “friend” connections like Facebook, and one of its advantages is the ability to maintain asymmetric relationships. However, I would argue that a government organization should be a tad careful in who it follows: even if the policy clarifies that following is automatic and does not imply any endorsement, a “following” relation always implies an interest in knowing about somebody, and this may be a cause for embarrassment in some cases.
This template is a useful start but I do hope it won’t be followed as a “best practice”, something that happens quite often within the EU.