Gordon Brown adopts the medium of Twitter

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No 10 goes digital with a spot of Twittery-pokery | Media | The Guardian
A user called DowningStreet joined Twitter, a surprisingly addictive social networking site that allows you to tell people exactly what you are doing, as you are doing it.

Oh yes indeed, The British Government is Twittering!

Well it’s about time. These kinds of ultra new mediums can really help politicians — and members of the Government — reconnect with their massively disillusioned electorate.

There will always be political journalists in some form or other to help give perspective on the issues of the day, however nothing beats connecting directly to the source to get your opinion. For far too long, the UK Government has been hidden under lobby briefings and officially sanitised press releases. It’s fascinating to read through the Number 10 Twitter updates — they’re written, clearly, by humans. That’s the major difference between the Twitterfeed and the Number 10 website copy.

What’s more, they write back. Some Twitterers have, no doubt, been rather surprised to have asked the ‘DowningStreet’ username a question and got an answer either right-away or quickly.

How is mainstream media reacting? Well, The Guardian, one of the most progressive mainstream media outlets in the UK, has a slightly wry take on it:

Alas, DowningStreet’s updates have been rather less illuminating – the first was a yawny thing gazetting the Sarkozy visit: “Entente Cordiale to enter ‘new era'”. Thankfully, it got better: at 3:32pm on April 8, they (various members of the digital communications unit at No 10, it has been confirmed) reported: “George Clooney came to No 10 for talks with the PM this morning … The visit caused quite a stir with the staff, as you can imagine.”

Twitter is very humanising. All of a sudden I’ve got the impression that people, not highly tuned robots, are working in the digital comms office.

The Guardian is, perhaps, slightly snooty about the ‘chatty’ nature of the Twitter updates:

Interesting, too, was what other Twitterers were twittering in about: “Does Gordon Brown know what Twitter is? Just wondering)” asked one sceptic. “Yes he does. He knows exactly what’s going on …!” came the rapid response from DowningStreet. And it has all got very chatty on the current trip to the US. Someone Twittered in to recommend a particular meatball sandwich in New York, to the jealousy of Brown’s minion, who replied there was only time for coffee and muffins. And yesterday we learned that “Gordon” (they’re getting very casual) had met Barack Obama in “beautiful gardens”. We also learned that Gordon Brown’s people can’t spell: “the minor whirlwhind continues”, apparently.

There’s a time for chatty — and that time is now. When there’s a massive national emergency, I don’t expect to be reading Twitter updates about coffee and muffins from the feed — so I think they’ve got the tone right.

Simply using Twitter as a 140 character press release announcement wouldn’t cut it. You, I and everyone else on the planet would tut quietly, roll our eyes and shake our heads in response, chanting ‘gahh, they just don’t get it’.

The Guardian also pointed out that one of the Twitter messages contained an incorrectly spelt word (“whirlwhind”). Well butter me in jelly and call me Christina if I haven’t made typos and spelling mistakes whilst blogging. You do your best and you get the message out. If anything that typo served to highlight that you’re actually getting the viewpoint directly from one of the team there and that they’re not spending 48 hours (and several committees) reviewing every Twitter message prior to it being posted.

So I’m pleased that the chaps and ladies in the digital communications team are taking a punt and having a play. That’s the way ahead.

For years I’ve espoused the use of text messaging for politicians. I once contacted the Conservative Party to demand that they give a Virtual Mobile Number (for texting, primarily) to every single one of their MPs and candidates so that they could encourage their local electorate (and, anyone else, actually) to text in with problems and questions — and for use as an efficient distribution of news back to those subscribed electorate. I wrote a wicked positioning paper and a brilliant presentation — and some really smart two-way SMS software for the purpose. I tried Labour — the current party in power — but got drowned in the quagmire of the political folk who wouldn’t introduce me to anyone. I didn’t bother with the Liberal Party on the basis that it only had a few MPs. So I tried the Conservatives, got a little bit of the way — met their Campaign Manager, pitched the concept, but alas, they were heavily focused on trying to win an election at that time.

What a way we’ve come since the rather rubbish ‘Big Conversation’ text service. Read all about that here, together with my ideas, that, back in 2006 were already years old.

So Twitter — or a form of twitter — for every MP? Definitely. Kudos to Number 10 for trying it out and getting it right.

Get the Downing Street Twitter feed here.

And get Twitter updates every time I post on the SMS Text News here.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

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