Social media is mainstream media now. It is commonplace for influential individuals to use Twitter to share ideas, offer first-hand comment, and build networks of influence.
Effective use of social media like Twitter is central to the DH digital communication and engagement work.
The development of social media has presented new challenges for Government and organisations because it tends to rely on relationships between named individuals. It is not possible to fully exploit the opportunities provided by social media without personal participation in digital conversations.
Corporate, official and personal Twitter channels
The Department uses three types of Twitter channel:
- Corporate: messages from the Department, not attributed to a named person. Used for making announcements, and limited engagement. Example: the Department has more than 45,000 followers of our corporate channel (@dhgovuk)
- Official: Tweets from a named person in the Department. Used for official engagement. Example: Tweets about the development of health and wellbeing boards from @AmyatDH
- Personal: personal engagement from a named person. May include comment about the work of the Department, although not always on behalf of the Department. Example: tweets from the DH head of digital: @hmshale
In addition, Ministers must ensure they do not breach the principles described in the Ministerial Code through their use of Twitter. In practice, this means:
- ensuring that civil service resources are not used for partisan purposes, and
- applying the same principles as when participating in any live public media, eg a radio broadcast.
The same principles for effective use of Twitter apply to ministers and officials:
- Be personal - Twitter is a personal medium, and Twitter users are savvy to anything that is not authentic. Twitter accounts managed exclusively by other people on behalf of the ‘owner’ fail.
- Be conversational - Twitter is a social medium, designed for conversations. You don’t need to respond to everything, but effective users of Twitter build networks through interaction with others.
- Build networks - Twitter is about networks of interesting people. Follow interesting people and they will follow you back (if you’re interesting).
- Use established conventions - Have a biography that reflects your role and a photo, use hashtags, create lists. You’ll find them useful, and others will too.
- Be responsible - Your tweets are public and permanent. Treat the content in the same way you would a media interview.
- Be expert - Talk about things you have authority to talk about. This might mean focusing your comments on your own area of work, rather than that of others.
The DH Digital team can help and support in following these principles.
Others using Twitter
Successful Twitter channels reflect a personal and hands-on commitment to the medium. The internet is also littered with thousands of Twitter channels that have failed without this, including government channels.
DH ministers on Twitter
DH ministers who wish to use Twitter should use a personal channel (eg Jeremy Hunt)
- What: can cover personal, DH, and political content. DH digital team can support non-party political use and promote via @dhgovuk and other Departmental channels. DH officials cannot assist in the use of the channel for personal or party political content.
- Pros: easy to be personal and reflect the whole person, as per best practice use of Twitter
- Cons: need to be careful not to exploit civil service support, in line with the Ministerial Code
Roles and responsibilities for ministers using Twitter:
- Minister: draft and post tweets, and take part in conversations as appropriate
- Communications Division: provide advice and coaching on effective use of Twitter, provide analysis of reach and impact, promote via DH digital channels
- Private office: support ministers, as they would for live media bids