https://digitalhealth.blog.gov.uk/2013/06/11/dhmonioring-what-were-we-thinking/

@dhmonitoring – what were we thinking?

On 9 May, I set up @DHmonitoring (now @DHlistening) and the response to this twitter account has been a really interesting (unintended) insight.

We set up the account to follow a list of people talking about health policy and the work of the department. The people we follow from the account changes every day, but it includes people saying interesting things about our work and the issues we care about. The idea was to use it as a filter, and to easily generate summaries of conversations. What the people we follow on this account are saying provides a fairly good indication of what others are saying, or will be saying about dementia, compassionate care, technology in the NHS, or mortality.

We don’t want to tweet from the account because we tweet from our official @DHgovuk or our personal accounts such as @susyatdh. We simply wanted to use the account for listening. At DH we use a number of tools for this such as hootsuite, bottlenose and create weekly pinterest boards which we share internally. This account was just another way we wanted to listen.

Here is what some people had to say:

@ShaunLintern: I'm now being followed by @DHmonitoring A twitter account set up by DH to "monitor health commentary". How very #bigbrother of them.

@CureNHSLambeth: Really creepy! And it will not be tweeting! #voyuer @ShaunLintern @dhmonitoring

@JennyDodd: @dhmonitoring I think you have misunderstood this tool.

@246170: @ShaunLint@ShaunLintern @DHmonitoring Perhaps at some point they'll learn how to actually engage! Rather than transmit or 'watch'!

@JeremyTaylorNV: @ShaunLintern Go on, @DHmonitoring - I dare you to say something! It's not cool just to follow, it's stalking!

@ShaunLintern: The rather sinister DH Monitoring account has now changed its name to the far less threatening @DHlistening I feel so much better!

You get the idea…

As you can see the responses are pretty negative and I think there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the name, @DHmonitoring. On reflection this probably wasn’t a good choice. But because there was no sinister intent behind the account, it simply didn’t occur to me that people would see it this way. We changed it to @DHlistening as a result.

The second thing people didn’t like was that it was anonymous. I’ve put my name to it now and responded to people directly from my @susyatdh account when they are questioning why they are being followed by the account. This has helped people feel more comfortable about, it but not 100%.

Thirdly, people don’t like that we don’t tweet from the account. We tweet from several accounts which I point too from the account bio and we are being open about what we are using it for.

Fourthly, I think people have an issue with this account is because they think DH is up to something. They are not sure what, but put simply they don’t trust us, and by us I think I mean civil servants.

So how can we shake this mistrust? By being more open. How can we be more open? By listening, consulting and sharing information openly. Using digital tools can help us to do this. By blogging, tweeting and using online consultations we can be more open about our work and encourage more ways for people to feed into our thinking. The DH digital strategy encourages us to do just this, and the digital team are creating resources such as the social media toolkit for press officers to help DH get better at digital engagement.

If I knew how people would react to @dhmonitoring would I still have created the account? I’m not sure. I might have used a less transparent way to gather the kinds of insight we get from this account. But despite the odd snarky comment, the account is proving to be a useful filter for us. And I think the department is right to be listening.

5 comments

  1. Jess

    Really interesting blog! Good to learn from - for both DH and other government departments. Surprised the original name wasn't flagged as unproductive/inappropriate before launch, but think proactive steps since were a good call.

    Just out of interest, I'm intrigued why a new account was created instead of just a simple Twitter list in the first case?

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    • Susy Wootton

      Good point Jess. We wanted the twitter digests to share internally and couldn't find a tool that does digests for lists. If you know of any tools which do digests for lists, they would be good to know about.

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  2. Helen Reynolds (@HelReynolds)

    Great post - it's so good to read an open and honest account of your work and what you're learning. I'm not the biggest fan of Paper.li but it does a good job of creating a little newspaper digest which you can set to point at a Twitter list - I made one for people in the org I work for and although it doesn't have loads of email subscribers, setting it up took five minutes and was free so well worth it.

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  3. Rhian

    This was a really good account of some of the pitfalls that organisations can innocently fall into when utilising social media. I think the 'unwritten rules' for the uninitiated can deter civil servants from using new digital ways of engagement that would help people to better understand the work of Government Departments. Accounts like this are really helpful in shining a spotlight on unintended consequences and being transparent and open about actions and intentions.

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