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by Laura Phillips on 2nd January 2014
Twitter is a big deal for any public figure, none more so than our politicians. While many of them are fully utilising Twitter, many others are failing miserably.
I recently got involved in a bit of back and forth on Twitter with a local politician. While his response was quick, he ultimately refused to answer my question in public.
I found this quite disappointing, and it got me thinking about the importance of Twitter for politicians and its best practice.
According to a recent post by Rose McGrory there are roughly 34 million live Twitter accounts in the UK, quite an increase from the 26 million reported last year. All those people belong to a constituency somewhere, a number of them in yours. There are 533 constituencies in England, meaning that if they were divided equally (which they are not of course), each constituency would average just under 64,000 Twitter users each.
Twitter is essentially a platform created for self-promotion, and if there’s one thing politicians want, it’s a bit of promotion. Unlike Facebook its 140 character limit gives the tool a different voice, a more industry based one, where people who are interested in what you have to offer listen, engage, and respond. For politicians especially it’s an absolute gold mine of data and information, as well as a direct line to potential supporters.
Having the personal edge that comes with a well maintained and easily accessible Twitter profile leads to great engagement, a better relationship with the public, and ultimately a more successful political campaign.
Add to that the recent news that politicians posted over a million Tweets in 2013 according to The Mirror then if you don’t use Twitter, you could be losing out to the competition who are engaging local constituents when you are not.
Politics.co.uk carried out an interesting survey of politicians using Twitter from time to time. They use their own scoring system based on ‘entertaining’, ‘informative, ‘engaging with constituents’, and ‘regularity’ to a maximum of 30 points. In their latest report the top five were:
According to Mashable in July 2013 the top political figures being followed worldwide were:
Using the same system Politics.co.uk also rated the ten ‘worst’ MPs on Twitter:
Politics.co.uk have also created an infographic with VoiceOver including this interesting section showing the difference in the number of MPs each political party has on Twitter and how many Tweets they send:
There have been a number of examples of especially high profile UK politicians messing up on Twitter in public too…
David Cameron – used AutoFollow technology and accidentally followed an escort agency:
Ed Miliband – fell afoul of AutoCorrect to mention BlackBusters instead of BlockBusters:
Ed Balls – Tweeting his own name and nothing else, leading to Ed Balls Day
Keith Vaz – intentionally Tweeted a snarky comment about Theresa May’s weight loss
Chris Huhne – already in trouble for speeding, Huhne accidentally Tweeted a private message, “From someone else fine but I do not want my fingerprints on the story. C”, to a journalist, starting a furore in the Cabinet
Yes, all these politicians and many more have failed at Twitter in some way, be it because they don’t know how or simply do not see the benefit. However, the politicians really failing are the ones not using Twitter to their best advantage, or not using it at all. All of the above politicians have thousands of followers. Thousands of people have found their Twitter profile and want to know what they have to say. Has there ever been such a perfect platform for today’s aspiring MP?
Here are some of the Councillors we have in my area, all using Twitter differently:
John Denham (Labour) – Local MP
John Denham is our local MP so unsurprisingly he has rather a lot of followers, 10,668 at the time of writing. He is following a meagre 241 people, and has posted 1,749 times. He Tweets a few times almost every day, including a number of Retweets. It’s not the most engaging profile I’ve ever seen, and contains a large amount of anti-conservative propaganda, but it does the job and Mr Denham does seem to respond to comments from the public and other politicians.
Mr Denham’s Twitter profile is the fifth organic result under his name in Google, showing that a good Twitter profile can help first page domination, and help him stay in control of his name.
John Noon (Labour)
John Noon doesn’t really seem to ‘do’ Twitter. Unlike the Labour MP, and most other politicians his profile is not really geared towards his job, it is more of a personal profile. This is fine of course, but it is also the profile that the public will find if they search for him. He follows 176 users at time of writing and has just 165 followers, suggesting there is a lot of room for improvement.
In instances where users wish to have a personal and professional Twitter account it is recommended that these are kept separate. This is largely so that the user can keep the information they share and the image they uphold professionally separate from the personal side of things. Mr Noon does not offer an alternative in his bio and I assume this is the only profile he has.
Sadly this is not a good example of a Twitter profile for a number of reasons:
Bio – Mr Noon’s bio begins by telling users that he is a Labour Party Member, and Labour Councillor. This could be deemed a waste of characters as I for one would assume that if you are a Labour Councillor you are probably a Party Member too.
Mr Noon is a Councillor for Southampton, but he has spelled the town’s name incorrectly.
The next fact he shares is that he is an Atheist. This is fine of course, but differing religious beliefs may alienate certain parts of the community or create a stumbling block if beliefs are not shared, Religion and politics should not mix in my humble opinion and may cause an element of estrangement in some constituents.
Next Mr Noon shares that he is a republican. To say why this may not be the best idea I refer to the same argument as he case for not saying you are an Atheist in your profile, as a public figure looking to gain support from the public.
Next, that he is a supporter of the Widnes Vikings, a rugby club in Cheshire. Again there is nothing wrong at all with this, but it is information more suited to a personal profile. My reasoning for this is that Cheshire is a loooong way from Southampton. 230 miles and about 4 hours to be precise. This information is not going to enamour anyone from his local constituency.
Private information – At time of writing Mr Noon’s last two Tweets included his personal email address which I would assume he’d rather not have out in the public to quite that extent.
Tweets – Mr Noon has Tweeted just 42 times since 23rd August 2009, with gaps lasting months and months. Some of these Tweets seem to be professionally driven, some personally, and some I have no idea. There are misspellings, repeated broken links, and things which I guess you’d have to know the man and the situation to understand.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not picking on Mr Noon, and he’s not the Councillor I was talking to, but he has created a good example of what NOT to do with Twitter on a day-to-day basis.
Royston Smith (Conservative)
Mr Smith fares better than Mr Noon, with a professional bio, link to his website, and a slightly better 974 followers to his following 344 other users. He has tweeted 2,352 times, with some Retweets and a lot of his own. The general tone is less emphatic than Mr Denham’s, which can, in my humble opinion, be a little aggressive at times. He responds to users in a timely fashion, though sometimes the responses seem a little weak, such as this one:
…and this one of course:
UPDATE: Mr Smith has responded to this post via Twitter to intimate that I deleted a Tweet (you can see in the conversation above that one did indeed disappear into the ether, but not by my hand), and that this is why politicians hesitate to use Twitter. I think this is a good example of why our chat inspired this post. He did also say it was well written, so it’s not all bad.
Later he has invited me to call or email him, but I think we’ve both spent enough time on this and my original question remains unanswered.
Adrian Vinson (Liberal Democrats)
Sadly the Lib Dems in my area have chosen not to have personal Twitter profiles. Instead of having access to a local Councillor via this hugely popular medium, the website directs you to the Twitter and Facebook pages of the Liberal Democrat Party themselves, itself an awesomely uninspiring and repetitive feed.
I could go on to talk about the fact the Lib Dems in Southampton still seem to be using eBusiness cards (hellooooo year 2000), have a placement for a YouTube channel but are not using it. I could get started on the local or national websites too, but that’s all for another time.
The infographic near the start of this post referred to the Lib Dems being on the back foot with Twitter, and for our area I stand by that, as you can see. However it should be noted that out of a total of 56 Lib Dem MPs, 44 of them are active on Twitter. So that’s a 78% Twitter using rate, pretty impressive compared to their counterparts.
Labour have 184 Tweeting MPs out of a total of 258, so that’s 71% of all Labour MPs.
The Conservatives have 179 out of 303, lagging behind with a 57% Twitter using rate.
Learn the System
Don’t end up looking like a fool a la Chris Huhne, David Cameron, or Keith Vaz. Learn how to use Twitter, find out what is appropriate and what is not, and if you must use slang (please please don’t) or hashtags, then learn what they MEAN first.
Timing matters, a lot. If what you want to talk about is time sensitive make sure you are able to send it at the right time, or if not this is one of the few times I would recommend an automation tool to do it for you. More on those later.
Users generally don’t want to be bombarded by Councillors and MPs all day every day. If you have something worth saying, of course you must say it, but if you really have nothing worth saying just can it and save it for when you do. There’s nothing worse for a user than taking the 3 seconds to read the kind of drivel that spews forth when public figures have nothing to actually say. It can damage your online reputation and turn users off. Usually 1-3 Tweets a day will do it but that is a very rough rule of thumb. Try , test, see what works for you.
In an ideal world you should be sharing stuff that your followers will want to share. Say you have a really interesting piece of news, and 10,000 followers, it will have a prospective reach of 10,000 followers. But if it is highly relevant, useful, and/or entertaining, 1,000 of those followers may Retweet it. Let’s say they average 100 followers each and there is no cross over, you’ve just reached an extra 100,000 users without having to work for it.
LISTEN as well as talk. Using some of the tools listed below you can track news, topics, trends and more to help create engaging content. By this I mean content that users will want to talk to you about, want to share with and talk to others about, both online and offline. Great content is absolutely key here. You don’t just want users to see what you’re Tweeting, you want them to engage with it, and with you.
Handle your social media audience with care. For a few Dos and Don’ts, plus an example of what happens when you treat your audience badly, have a look at this post from earlier in the year
RESPOND to your audience! If it gets tricky move the conversation offline but never ignore and never delete their comments.
This is an easy one. Make yourself accessible. Put your Twitter handle everywhere, on all printed marketing, every page of your website, on your business cards, everywhere.
There are SO many Twitter related tools out there, most of them free, which can help you stay organised and improve your number of followers. These include:
Use the Data
Once you have built up a decent volume of followers, analyse your data using tools like FollowerWonk, Topsy and TweetDeck to give the people what they want, when they want it.
Watch the below video to find out about three common social media mistakes and how to avoid them.
So, I hope you have found this post useful. What else do you think could be used to help politicians in the world of social media?
Laura has experience of SEO, PPC and Social Media both in-house and within an agency environment. Having worked across a variety of industries from travel to law, and retail to education she is always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the search and social visibility of her clients across various platforms.