4 Tips for Politicians on Twitter

Posted on October 14th 2012

4 Tips for Politicians on Twitter

Senior executives and other important folks have a peculiar relationship with social media.

A study earlier this year found that 80% of people thought that executives that use social media are better equipped to lead their organisations. However a couple of other studies found that just 30% of senior executives have any kind of social media presence, and just 10% of CIOs use social media.

So news this week that UK prime minister David Cameron has joined Twitter should be a good thing, right? Well yes and no. Whilst it’s positive that the prime minister is present on social media there are ways of doing things, and ways of not doing things. Let me outline a bit of what I mean.

Substance over style

With any social media presence you have on the web you should have a clearly defined purpose for it. This is especially so for senior people that have incredibly busy lives. When every minute of the day has to be accounted for and maximised you need to make sure that your time is achieving results.

So what is the purpose for David Cameron creating a Twitter account? Suffice to say it’s hard to know for certain, but it seems possible that with the US presidential elections encouraging more social media chatter than ever before he wants to appear with it. Just being there doesn’t really cut the mustard though, especially if it’s your PR team that do the tweeting (more of that later).

So my tip #1 for Cameron is figure out what it is you want to achieve, and then measure how often you achieve that.

Measure the right things

Ok, measurement. It’s a hot topic on social media as many people get it so badly wrong. Nowhere is this more so than in politics. It seems that politicians see the number of Twitter followers as a kind of proxy for their overall popularity with voters. Kinda like the ultimate social proof.

The problem is though that this then encourages shady behaviour. After all, it’s much easier to acquire Twitter followers than it is voters. You only have to ask Mitt Romney, who magically gained a few hundred thousand earlier this year. As far as I can tell though, most fake accounts aren’t registered to vote.

So tip #2 for Cameron is to not get bogged down with chasing followers. Use Twitter for something more meaningful than faux popularity.

Be real

During the last election campaign there were a number of billboards where the photo of David Cameron looked all a bit like a wax work. Whilst I don’t think many people expect politicians to have any clue about them or their lives, a bit of authenticity would do no harm in reclaiming some credibility for the political classes.

Alas I suspect that most of the tweets made to the new account will be made by a public relations team that will have screened every letter to make sure that the kind of cock ups that footballers regularly engage in don’t occur here.

The problem with that is that if people expect the tweets to be anodyne rubbish then it defeats any point of having it in the first place. For sure exhibit good judgement with what you share, but you have to be authentic to succeed on social media.

Tip #3 therefore is to reclaim ownership of the account and start doing it for himself. He doesn’t have the time then don’t have the account. Don’t try and pull the wool over peoples eyes though.

Talking rather than listening

The popular line is that politicians are public servants, here to do our bidding. The reality is often very different though. Social media should change that because it allows people to listen and talk with customers and other end users of the services they provide like never before.

Will David Cameron be doing that though? I suspect not. He’s following a handful of people so far, but unfortunately they’re all fellow politicians, so I can’t see him learning anything new from reading their accounts. It’s also doubtful that he’s replying to messages or in any way engaging in conversation with his followers.

Social media isn’t a broadcast medium, it’s a relational medium. You win with it when you use it to engage with your audience, soliciting their thoughts and ideas on how things can be done better. Sadly too many still use it to push out messages in the same way they’ve always done so via television and other media. It doesn’t seem like the Cameron account will be anything different.

So the fourth and final tip is to do more listening than talking. Use the account to engage with the country and set an example that politicians really are here to serve us rather than the other way round.

Of course it’s early days with the account, and it may yet confound my fears, but if it could abide by these four simple tips I feel it would not only deliver better results for the government, but would also do much more for the British population.

Here are those four tips again:

1. Have a clear purpose

2. Don't chase followers

3. Be authentic and run the account himself

4. Listen more than talk

Adi Gaskell

Adi Gaskell

A writer on management and social media for sites such as Technorati, Professional Manager, CMI, DZone, Work.com and Social Business News, as well as at my own blog.

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Comments

Kent Ong
Posted on October 14th 2012 at 9:21AM

Hahaha. I think our Prime Minister (Malaysia) Najib should read it. But first, we need to make him care.

Adi Gaskell
Posted on October 16th 2012 at 10:45AM

Is he on Twitter Kent?

Kent Ong
Posted on October 16th 2012 at 11:19AM

Yes, he is on Twitter, but the problem is, he does one way communication. Never reply or response tweets that for him.

Adi Gaskell
Posted on October 16th 2012 at 11:23AM

What might be interesting is to try and find a single politician that does anything different.  A positive deviant if you will.

Kent Ong
Posted on October 16th 2012 at 12:05PM

You are right. Opposition party is doing very good. That is the biggest reason opposition party is able to brainwash for those who use social media and it is very effective. :)

Now in Malaysia, most of the people dislike our current government and ready to kick them out. That's the power of social media and our government knows it but doesn't do it. Maybe they think they have big corporate connections to vote them.

Sara_Mitchell
Posted on October 14th 2012 at 8:30PM

Twitter is still a new medium and needs to be taught. A simple tweet here and there can't be all you do to get your message across and reach your audience. The Gen Y generation especially. Gen Y is all over Twitter and no one knows Gen Y better than YAYA Connection. YAYA Connection is a research team composed of youth and young adult members (YAYAs). Check out our take on Gen Y and Twitter on our blog:

http://yayaconnection.com/2012/are-millennials-tweeting-away-money/

Adi Gaskell
Posted on October 16th 2012 at 10:43AM

Think this comment brings back my point about doing more listening than talking :)