Why Government needed a Twitter strategy

Dafydd Vaughan on 28 July 2009

Last week, Neil Williams from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) published his draft Government Twitter Strategy. I think its about time someone sat down and produced a document like this. Some people have responded to the document negatively (as expected), some positively, and some have completely missed the point.

I wanted to spell out why I’m pleased Neil has written this document.

There is a lot of skepticism about new media in Government. Many people are scared about it – I partly believe this is because of the lack of control. With ‘old media’ people had a pretty good idea of what they were getting into. With ‘new media’, its well, new, big, scary and uncontrollable.

There are concerns about risk – what happens if someone posts something that looks bad or isn’t accurate? What happens if someone posts something early? There are concerns about competition – does using one service unfairly promote them over their other commercial rivals? There are concerns about the resources needed to manage the service, and concerns about the public value. All of these are valid concerns and but can be managed.

Risk can be reduced, competition can be looked at (in the case of Twitter, what competition is there?), value can be measured. Its just a case of how. This is what this document does – it explains to people (some of who have no idea what Twitter is) what it is, and how to mitigate the risks involved.

There are a lot of people involved in Government who are digitally switched on, want to use social media, and understand how to use it. But there are also people who have no clue, and still can’t work out how to turn on a computer. This document is for those people – to reassure them that we’re not going to make their lives more complicated than they already are. The document shows them that the risks, in reality are no greater than someone leaking information to the press (which they can do just as easily offline as online). It shows them that Twitter doesn’t use a lot of resources, and it helps them understand how it is going to be used.

To Neil – thanks for taking the time to write it. It’s an exceptionally useful document and hopefully will persuade a few skeptics that social media isn’t the evil thing it seems to be. To everyone else – government is cautious with this kind of thing. If we launched into something like this without any form of controls and it ended up swallowing resources, eating money and had little or no value, there would be – quite rightly – public outcry. We (myself included) would be calling for blood.

As a final note, I’d like to point out that I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Government skepticism about new media. I want to make it clear that it isn’t just government, but a lot of businesses and individuals to. I even know of web development businesses that don’t get social media – and don’t want anything to do with it. Things are changing – just be patient (please!).

As always, these are my views and not those of my (public service) employer!

Template Twitter Strategy for Government Departments