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Are Politicians And Public Figures Failing To Use Twitter Correctly?

Laura Phillips

by Laura Phillips on 2nd January 2014

Twitter BirdTwitter 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.

Why Should Politicians Use Twitter?

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.

Which Politicians Are Dominating Twitter in the UK?

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:

  • Barack Obama – 33.6 million followers (President of the USA)
  • Michelle Obama – 4.6 million followers (First Lady of the USA)
  • Hugo Chavez – 4.2 million followers (Former President of Venezuela, deceased)
  • Henrique Capriles R. – 3.5 million followers (Governor of Miranda, Venezuela)
  • Abdullah Gul – 3.4 million followers (President of Turkey)
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger – 2.9 million followers (Former Governor of California)

Which Politicians Are Failing at Using Twitter in the UK?

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:

MPs On Twitter

 This shows a huge disparity between the Liberal Democrats and their competitors; we’ll come back to that later.

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:

Carltons

Ed Miliband – fell afoul of AutoCorrect to mention BlackBusters instead of BlockBusters:

Ed Miliband Fail

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?

Show Us an Example of Politicians Using Twitter

Here are some of the Councillors we have in my area, all using Twitter differently:

John Denham (Labour) – Local MP

John Denham

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

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)

Royston Smith

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:

Take Responsibility

…and this one of course:

Laura MP Tweet

Laura MP Tweet 2

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)

Adrian Vinson

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.

Best Practice for Politicians Using Twitter

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.

Bio

  • Keep your bio short and sweet and to the point.
  • As a professional Twitter profile users will not expect to see any personal information.
  • If you have a website this is a good place to link it to.

Photo

  • For your bio photo use a standard campaign photo that is used in other marketing material so you are easily recognisable and imagery is kept uniform.
  • No photos of you saving kittens or kissing babies please.

Personality

  • In social media your brand voice is your personality. Your brand is obvious, but your voice online is so much more important than you probably think.
  • What you say is of course very important, but how you say it can have a major effect on how/if people respond.

Tweets

  • Again, short and sweet and to the point please.
  • Don’t forget to use the brand voice we spoke about earlier, making sure that your brand personality is coming across strong and clear.
  • Tweets are limited to 140 characters so plan your Tweet before you send it to make sure it will make sense inside this restriction.
  • One piece of recent research has suggested that Tweets under 100 characters get a 17% higher engagement rate.
  • Vary your media, post comments, Retweets, video, images, mix it all up a bit to keep users interested.

Timing

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.

Frequency

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.

Reach

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.

Engagement  

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

Response

RESPOND to your audience! If it gets tricky move the conversation offline but never ignore and never delete their comments.

 Accessibilty

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.

Tools

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:

  • Topsy – A real time search engine powered by social information. Topsy indexes sites and ranks search results based on influential conversations about keywords, topics, or domain queries.
  • FollowerWonk – FollowerWonk gives you access to Twitter analytics, helping you optimise growth for your following.
  • TweetDeck – TweetDeck is a real time tool for tracking, organising, and engagement. Create a custom dashboard and monitor trends, conversations, and topics important to you.
  • HootSuite – A social media dashboard, similar to TweetDeck though most people have a preference for one or the other.
  • Who Unfollowed Me – An interesting tool to help you monitor new followers, keep track of who you are following or not following back, and who is following or not following you back.
  • YouTubeIf you are currently utilising YouTube, as you probably should be you can create your own YouTube Channel and upload clips and videos directly to Twitter.
  • LinkedInYou can link your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts so that what appears on Linked In automatically appears on Twitter. This can also be done on Facebook but I don’t recommend this as the different formats can make for a messy and confusing user experience.

 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.

Common Mistakes

Watch the below video to find out about three common social media mistakes and how to avoid them.

Transcript

Conclusion

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 Phillips

Laura Phillips

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.

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4 Comments

  • David Potts 2nd January 2014

    Hi Laura,

    You say: ‘LinkedIn – You can link your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts so that what appears on one automatically appears on the other.’

    But LinkedIn stop displaying twitter feeds in June 2012 (see http://help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/5457). It’s still possible to have LinkedIn updates show on Twitter but not the other way around. Its now a one-way service.

    Otherwise – great piece.

    Regards,

    David

    Reply to this comment

  • Laura Phillips

    Laura Phillips 3rd January 2014

    Hi David

    Thanks for that, I must have missed the memo! :)

    Reply to this comment

  • James McCarthy 27th January 2014

    Great article, and not just for politicians but any public figure… or company… or… Etc. As a journalist I find the abuse and waste of Twitter by many of the aforementioned entities both surprising and, for my purposes sometimes, delightful! Information like this should be standard issue to anyone in the public eye.

    Reply to this comment

  • Laura Phillips

    Laura Phillips 28th January 2014

    Hi James

    Thanks for your kind comments! I agree it can be immensely frustrating and also highly amusing sometimes!

    Reply to this comment

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