There are two ways to use Twitter as a politician.

The first (the right way) is to build a discussion, a conversation with people, to reply to normal Twitter users as well as other politicians and journalists. Politicians that understand this include @jeaninehennis @edballsmp and @corybooker.

The second way (the wrong way) is to just broadcast, broadcast, broadcast. Worst I have ever seen in this regard is Austrian socialist Hannes Swoboda @Hannes_Swoboda – not a single @ reply in the last 20 tweets, and not even a single link to anything! Following close behind is former UK Europe Minister Denis MacShane @DenisMacShane – he follows just 22 people and yet more than 1300 follow him, and again there’s not a single @ reply. Wrong in a different way is @LiamByrneMP – he just auto posts links from his blog to Twitter. If I want to follow the blog, then surely I’ll use a RSS reader?

I’m undecided whether these sorts of approaches are better than nothing or not. Is the impression of a conversation – the very fact of being on Twitter – outweighed by the fact that you can’t actually build a proper dialogue with these people?

‘But replying takes soooo much time!’ will be the reply to this post. No, absolutely not, and that’s precisely the point with Twitter. Get an iPhone, Android, Blackberry or other smartphone, and tweet in between meetings, in the limousine on the way to the airport etc.

Listening is actually the hard bit as a politician. Time and tech are just the excuses.


  1. Even more baffling is the EU’s Twitter account:

    No posts at all! Maybe they just wanted to grab the name? And yet they followed me back (as they have with most of their followers).

  2. Eirik Bergesen

    “God this fair trade organic banana is **** . Can I have a slave-grown chemically-treated genetically modified one?” Haha, Jon!

  3. @Eirik – full story here

  4. The politicians using Twitter who were removed as candidates as a result were just idiotic. If someone said this:

    God this fair trade organic banana is **** . Can I have a slave-grown chemically-treated genetically modified one?

    in a public debate they would be removed as well!

    Essentially anyone who is a sensible and good politician offline can be a good and constructive one online as well. It’s not that complicated… and Twitter is not the problem.

  5. I do agree with you – it would be great to have more politicians on Twitter and actually having proper conversations with voters. Anything that can be done to encourage that is brilliant and should be supported.

    However – what I’m worried about is all the bad press Twitter has been getting in political circles. A couple of candidates have gotten into trouble by tweeting the wrong thing. From the perspective of a voter – this is great. We get to know what candidates really think about controversial issues. However… I think it scares politicians and puts them off using Twitter.

  6. OK, maybe not right and wrong, but at least better or worse… And that I’ve tried to outline.

    @Matt – what you outline might be better than nothing, and that’s the point I am essentially raising. But there is a point where nothing at all is better than doing it poorly… and I’m trying to find where that point is.

    As for time – I just don’t buy that argument. Twitter is something you can fit in between everything else, if you want to. The time argument holds for blogging, but not for Twitter. You needed to have equipped your candidate with a smart phone – then it would have worked?

  7. Not sure I agree.

    Yes, it’s best if a politician has an account, uses it themselves, and talks to people. But use of Twitter is the same as any other thing; it’s got to be something you vaguely enjoy to actually be good at it and make it worth it.

    If it’s not something you actively enjoy doing, better to do something equally constructive with your time; let’s face it, politicians are generally hard pressed for time generally. For thee and me, the learning curve for Twitter was almost non existent; you just use the site/client, and it does what you expect. For someone not used to web stuff, perhaps someone not convinced it’s a good idea in the first place?

    I set my PPC up on Twitter during the campaign, her stream consisted of two types of update; her tweets via SMS, and updates from the news website/campaign blog. She tried to get the web interface, but never did quite understand what was going on. When anyone asked her a question, either I or Jennie replied; we know we picked up voters and supporters (including two members) as a result of our efforts, so it was worth it.

    But for her? Full time job, children, twon councillor, chair of school governors and candidate for GE in a 3-way marginal. She’s not a techy, not a regular online user, still checks her email by DLing it, reading it offline, then sending it all later. We were better off with her doing stuff she’s good at (like face to face contact) than spending time on Twitter.

    If elected, I suspect I’d have given her a crash course in actual usage, reading, replying, etc. But I suspect a lot of the monitoring would’ve had to be done by office staff/volunteer.

    Lots of people use Twitter, partially, as an RSS reader; if I didn’t use DW I suspect I’d do the same. In fact, large numbers of people still have no idea what RSS is. Check your stats. Check the stats of your clients. What proportion of non-search traffic is from an RSS reader, compared to other sources, incoming links, or just direct requests?

    We got as much traffic from Twitter as from any other source except Google for the campaign site. People retweeted our “website update” posts.

    Yes, you could trweet between meetings, in the back of the car, etc. Or you could read correspondence, reply to emails, etc. All of these would be useful activities.

    I, personally, am much more inclined to support a twitterer than a non-twitterer, if I actually like them. But thee and me are a minority; most voters, still, have either not heard of Twitter, or have a basic idea of what it is.

    If you enjoy using it, fine, but if not? Have an account, get it monitored, feed stuff from elsewhere. That is better than nothing.

    Accounts like that are just newsfeeds, and their subscribers pretty much knew that when they followed. Floella Benjamin has never replied to anyone, and is following 8 people. Doesn’t stop her being popular, and doesn’t mean her use of Twitter is a waste of time. Sure, I’d like to see her replying, talking to people, etc. Maybe when she takes her seat, she will.

    But I have no problem with her using it as a tool.

  8. Is there a “right” way to use Twitter? It’s a tool – and there are many several different ways it can be employed.

    I can think of at least one very good reason to use Twitter as an extra RSS feed (although I admit this is something which most politicians who’ve hooked their blogs up to Twitter probably don’t do) – and that is hashtags.

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