Monday, 27 December 2010

A failure to maintain

I decided today, for no particular reason, that it was time to clean out my twitter "follows" (the people who I follow, not those who follow me) and I noticed an interesting trend. Whilst considering who I should drop, one of the most significant segments were British politicians, virtually no MPs survived in the final analysis (more on those who did later).

Political commentators like Tim Montgomerie did pretty well, journalists dropped off in pretty good numbers, but nothing exceptional, it was just MPs who got a resounding kicking. Hence I sat down and tried to figure out why this was.

The only answer I can come up with is that MPs by and large are absolutely terrible at social media if they don't have someone in a press office prodding them with a sharp stick to put posts up there. For most people the purpose of Twitter is to form an aggregate news feed, and to respost things which are of interest to us.

So what have MPs, and Governmental people been doing wrong?

A surprisingly large number have "moved" their twitter accounts. For example, Number 10 (for American readers, this is essentially the 'Government' Twitter feed, or as close as we have to one) has moved. Why that would be, I have no idea, they moved from one variation of Number10 to another, so its not like they started out with the twitter name "BastardsInGovt" and decided they needed something with decorum. They just decided to make it harder for me to follow them.

Others, and I'm looking at you, candidates for the Labour leadership, created dual accounts, one for their role as an MP, and another for their campaign. Thats a rookie move in itself. It misses the point that your twitter feed is "you" to those who follow you, a seperate campaign oriented feed just makes life complicated, and leads viewers to be confused about which one is 'real' and whether the second account is a PR exercise being operated by the intern in your HQ.

Most simply don't use their accounts any more, the "vacant lot" approach. During the election they were posting on a regular basis, now theres rarely anything being said. This is a real dropped ball in many ways as theres every reason to suggest that if you post interesting things people will follow you and engage with you.

Others are stuck on "transmit" mode, doing little to engage with their audience or create a discussion or debate. Thats a real shame, as a large number of MPs are erudite, interesting people who could do a lot if they got more involved in the street level debates going on on Twitter.

Tom Watson, Robert Halfon and to a lesser extent Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell deserve special mention, agree with their politics or not, they do get it. Hence they have survived my brutual cull of the chattering classes. However it should be noted that by and large, they have survived not because I find their politics interesting, but because of their rich and varied interests which mean they talk about a great deal more than what they last voted on, the political equivalent of talking about the weather.

As a result, I'm more likely to follow Felicia Day (actress/geek/web celeb), Cory Doctorow (Blogger for BoingBoing/Writer/geek) or Mark Pack (Head of Digital at MHP/Co-editor of Lib Dem Voice), because they actually have something interesting to say, and most show a willingess to discuss, rather than to constantly transmit.

Its a real shame more MPs don't take the time to really engage with this medium, particularly the younger, more tech savvy generation, for whom Twitter is a fact of life, not some novel new thing which has just come along. The grassroots are out there, waiting to listen, to be pursuaded, and to get into the debate, but there's no one listening in the post election world.

UPDATE: Excellent comment from Mark Pack, so much so I thought it worth pulling into the main body of the article to ensure people see it:

I've noticed a lot of Liberal Democrat MPs have taken their use of Twitter down a gear or two since the election. I don't think though that generally it's a case of not getting social media but rather:

a. Good MPs are *very* busy people, especially if they are also ministers

b. Via their postbag and regular constituency surgeries they get to dip in and out of what their constituents are thinking in a way that social media performs this role for many others

c. Even after this May, the vast majority of MPs are from a pre-social media generation and they instinctively turn to other methods which come to them more naturally (and so, arguably, are more efficient for them)

None of this is to argue that social media can't have a major role for many MPs - far from it - but I think it does help explain how good MPs make decisions to downplay social media that are based on something more than just not getting it.

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2 comments:

  1. I've noticed a lot of Liberal Democrat MPs have taken their use of Twitter down a gear or two since the election. I don't think though that generally it's a case of not getting social media but rather:

    a. Good MPs are *very* busy people, especially if they are also ministers

    b. Via their postbag and regular constituency surgeries they get to dip in and out of what their constituents are thinking in a way that social media performs this role for many others

    c. Even after this May, the vast majority of MPs are from a pre-social media generation and they instinctively turn to other methods which come to them more naturally (and so, arguably, are more efficient for them)

    None of this is to argue that social media can't have a major role for many MPs - far from it - but I think it does help explain how good MPs make decisions to downplay social media that are based on something more than just not getting it.

    I think even those MPs are wrong nearly always ... but I can respect the way they've come to their decision as being more than ignorance.

    PS Thanks for continuing to follow me!

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  2. I've also been culling (metaphorically) a couple of hundred people from my following list over xmas and came to pretty much the same conclusion, MPs have to go.

    The other main grouping I got grid of was the automated feeds from websites and news services - I figure if a story is interesting enough then one of the people I follow will RT it eventually!

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