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.