It was set up and is run by my team, with input from colleagues in press office, policy teams and ministers’ offices. It’s working out well for us and we’re keen to grow its reach. But how?
We’re doing the obvious things: like cross-promoting the channel from the website, plugging it at the end of news releases and dropping it into offline communications. Promoted in these contexts, it’s just another push mechanism, like RSS feeds and email alerts.
But Twitter is more than that. It’s a two-way relationship, a network, and wherever possible we try to treat it that way.
But we can’t promote it that way. I’d love to, but we can’t.
For individual Twitterers, following your friends’ followers is one of the best ways to grow your network. It’s the norm. People can choose to follow you back, or not. I’ve done this with my personal Twitter account and can even converse with Stephen Fry as a result.
But if a government department starts to follow someone out of the blue, the followee is likely to feel a bit – well – followed. It has a whiff of Big Brother about it. Even if the user is already following other, similar channels, he or she could well wonder “Why is the department for X now monitoring my tweets?”
I floated this idea on Twitter over the weekend, and got some useful thoughts back. I asked:
Is it bad form for a corporate Twitterer (like a govt dept) to follow new people to gain followers?
These people answered:
- karl_straw I think its bad form for anyone to do this to gain followers. Twitter is organic and that seems to be bio-engineering.
- charmermark if the person running corporate feed is interested in what people are saying, great. If it’s JUST to get followers, I say bad
- draml I don’t think it’s bad form, but at some point the corp Twitterer will have to ‘deliver’ on that follow by engaging surely?
- russelltanner i’d say it’s a no, unless you follow other organisations, rather than individuals?
- anthonyzach depends on how scattershot the following is.
- picturetheuk IMO not spammy. I use Twitter to learn stuff so it’s v. useful.
Not quite a unanimous “no” from these early birds on Saturday morning, but a pretty clear “don’t be that guy“. After a bit more digging, I also found the same question being asked on this blog with one commenter reporting from direct experience:
I think corporate or govt use of twitter needs to observe some protocol when “following” folks.Â I arrived home last night to a message that my local government council, @Mosmancouncil is now following me on Twitter.Â Now, I am not a paranoid type and really quite out there, but I just found it creepy that a govt body is “following” me without a note or a message of why and no introduction and no identity of the person who is behind the twitter account, or explanation of how they plan to use Twitter.Â So, what could have been a great and pleasant communication exercise was a bit weird and alienating.Â It really boils down to good manners, introductions and permissions.
What I take from all this is that most people would definitely feel weird about a government channel following them, unless they followed the government body first. But – at least for some users – establishing a human, personal introduction at the point of initiating the follow or very soon after would mitigate the ill feeling.
But I’m not convinced that even then it’s the right way to go.
If not – how can government and other corporates build their Twitter following without following people on Twitter itself?
(This O’Reilly report may have some of the answers, but I’m not paying $250 to find out!)
Some related finds on corporate Twittering:
- Guidelines for brands using Twitter
- The evolution of brands on Twitter
- 5 ways to screw up your corporate Twitter account
- 50 ideas on using Twitter for business
- 101 business Twitter ideas, tactics and strategies