Friday, July 31, 2009

UK govt releases Twitter manual

New Paper
30 July 2009

UK govt releases Twitter manual

Guide to tweet not short and sweet

THE British government has told civil servants: Go forth and tweet.

The government published guidelines yesterday for its departments on using the microblogging service Twitter.

Yet in contrast to Twitter's limit of 140 characters per message, the document runs for 20 pages, or more than 5,000 words.

Mr Neil Williams of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, who produced the guidelines, acknowledged that 20 pages was 'a bit over the top,' but said he had been surprised by 'just how much there is to say'.

The document tells civil servants their tweets should be 'human and credible' and written in 'informal spoken English'. It advises government departments to produce between two and 10 tweets a day, with a gap of at least 30 minutes between each 'to avoid flooding our followers' Twitter streams'.

The advice says Twitter can be used for everything from announcements to insights from ministers, and in a crisis could be a 'primary channel' for communicating with the electorate.

The document warns against using Twitter simply to convey campaign messages, but notes that while tweets may occasionally be 'fun', they should be in line with government objectives.

It also says departments should not follow any Twitter users who are not following them, as this could be interpreted as 'Big Brother' behaviour.

The prime minister's office, the Foreign Office and some individual lawmakers already use Twitter to broadcast their activities online. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's 10Downing Street office has more than 1 million Twitter followers.

Mr Tom Watson, a Labour party lawmaker who is one of the House of Commons' most active bloggers, said Twitter could be a valuable tool for Britain's Labour government.

But he said the guidelines showed how levels of familiarity with the Internet varied widely in the government.

'There are some very bright, digitally enabled civil servants who unfortunately have to write these documents for their bosses, the mandarins, who still get their secretaries to print off their e-mails so they can read them,' Mr Watson told the BBC.