With so much furore surrounding Olympians tweeting in the wake of the London Olympics recently, I decided to take a look at tweets by politicians in the UK. Social Media platforms have proved a useful way of getting a message across in real time – this allows politicians and organizations to make an instant response that can reach a wider audience than ever before.
TWEETING FOR THE 2012 OLYMPICS
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) laid down some strict rules and guidelines for using social media, both for the athletes and for the spectators. The four page policy (IOC Social Media, Blogging and Internet Guidelines for participants and other accredited persons at the London 2012 Olympic Games) was designed to prevent any controversial postings that could annoy the official sponsors of the London Olympics (Coca Cola and McDonald’s amongst them). Some of the restrictions seem fairly draconian in nature, with athletes not allowed to share any “behind the scenes” information or make any postings about the games as they were happening.
MPS GETTING IN ON THE ACT
With so many politicians and MPs using social media nowadays, having been encouraged to embrace this new method of communication, some MPs have found themselves in hot water after joining in. During the Olympic Opening Ceremony, one Tory MP posted a tweet labelling the entertainment “leftie multicultural crap”. This prompted a statement from Downing Street that “We do not agree with him” in an effort to distance David Cameron from the affair and Cameron has since been urged to demand an apology from the MP in question.
This sorry affair just highlights the fact that social media platforms need to be used wisely if they are to operate as an effective tools of communication. There are strict rules in the House of Commons governing the use of electronic devices: smartphones and iPads are allowed into the chamber but no laptops or devices larger than a sheet of A4 paper. I’ve been thinking about politicians using social media and have come up with some advice on tweeting for MPs.
5 TIPS FOR TWEETING FOR MPS
- Don’t tweet when you’re annoyed or when you’ve had a few too many. Angry tweets usually end up being a big mistake – it’s best to give yourself time to cool down and review the situation a bit more objectively before making a public statement (which is what a tweet is). Avoiding using Twitter when you’ve had a few drinks is just common sense, really – after all, if you had a public engagement or speech to make, you would turn up stone cold sober.
- Consider your audience. Think carefully about whom you’re tweeting to – the chances are that if you’re a politician (whether in national or local government), then your audience goes way beyond your friends and family. This means that your tweets are likely to be seen by voters, by other politicians and by the press. Always remember that your tweets may be taken out of context and used in a negative way – so try to make sure that your tweets are positive and, if in doubt, leave it out.
- Be real and join in the conversation. You need to make your tweets interesting and human so that they provide your followers with an insight into what makes you tick, what sort of person you are. And don’t forget to check the tweets directed at you (@your name) – this is a great opportunity to engage with people – you can respond to comments and questions and this is a sure fire way to let people know that you’re on the case and giving them some personal attention.
- Don’t let the cat out of the bag! Don’t use Twitter to share your party’s political propaganda people will find it boring and predictable and it’s not likely to gain you any followers. Always read through your tweets fully before pressing the Tweet button. This moment of discretion could save a lot of tears and hassle in the long run.
- Avoid flame wars. As a politician, you’ve probably already developed quite a thick skin – not everybody will agree with your party’s policies and social media platforms will allow people to criticise you in a direct manner. Before giving in to the temptation to defend yourself and get your point across, think carefully. Yes, people will post negative and abuse tweets to you and about you. It’s time to take the higher ground now – use the content as a valuable method of collecting feedback about your/your party’s performance. It’s okay to respond with a reasoned statement putting across your point of view, but don’t use this as an opportunity to hit back at your critics. You need to come across as polite and respectful at all times.
Politicians need to come up with personal strategies on how to use social media effectively and the tips I’ve given could be used to make a start on drawing up some sort of Personal Policy for using Twitter to get the message across in a modern way.
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