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My 10 Rules of Thumb for Every Tweeting MP

My 10 Rules of Thumb for Every Tweeting MP

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Published by Grant Shapps
My guide to Tweeting in Parliament
My guide to Tweeting in Parliament

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Published by: Grant Shapps on Feb 07, 2012
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05/25/2012

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Twitter and Politics
1@grantshapps
My 10 rules of thumb for every Tweeting MP
I
was surprised to read on theBBClast week that
I
may have been the first MP to join twitter.
I
 recall the very moment. Back in March 2008 my wife and
I
were out for dinner with a good friendwho has always been interested in Social Media. He mentioned Twitter to me and by dessert
I
wassigned up.
I
ve posted a tweet or two (sometimes more and occasionally none) most days since.The BBC also reports that over half of all MPs now have a Twitter account and just yesterday
I
 happened to reach my 40,000
th
follower, so
I
thought now might be a good moment to jot down mypersonal unofficial rules.
1.
 
D
o it yourself!
The biggest single question
I
m asked on Twitter is whether
I
write and send my own Tweets.The answer is YES in every case and
I
personally think it
s a big mistake to let someone elseTweet on your behalf.
I
t just comes over as insincere.
I
n my view the whole point of Twitteris personal, so thinking that you can get someone else to say what
you
really think is nearlyalways counterproductive.
2.
 
Never Tweet the daily Party political propaganda from Head Office
R
ather like the point above, the quickest way to destroy your Twitter credibility is torobotically retweet the story of the day out of your Party
s HQ.
I
t
s predictable, boring andavailable somewhere else. No one but your own mother and a few constituency activists aregoing to follow or thank you for re-posting it.
3.
 
Think about who youre Tweeting to?
Back in 2008
I
Tweeted, 
I
t
s a rainy Sunday afternoon and
I
m deciding whether to take myson to football in the park. On Monday morning an article appeared in The Times headed,While our economy burns, our politicians twitter. And they used my Tweet about whethermy son would play football or not as a case in point. Ouch! Now at the time
I
probably hadmore friends and family following me than those interested in politics, but
I
quickly realised
I
 had to think carefully about who was reading my Tweets. So go ahead and ask yourself, whois my audience?
 
4.
 
K
eep it real
Having given the warning in #3 above,
I
should quickly add that unless you make yourTweets human and interesting your following will remain strictly limited. Sure, a certainnumber of your constituents will follow you just because you
re their MP. But what mostpeople want to know is what really makes your tick?
R
emember, there
s a certain voyeuristicnature to Twitter so followers will appreciate a bit of an insight that they can
t get
 
Twitter and Politics
2@grantshappselsewhere.
I
n truth, getting this balance right if probably your biggest Twitter challenge.
5.
 
Get out of broadcast mode and be engaging
Twitter is not a one-way street, so if you simply use it as a tool to post your policy,propaganda and prejudice, then you
re definitely missing out. Check in on your @yournameto read the comments others are making. Needless to say you won
t want to be drawn intoarguing out every criticism made. You won
t have the time. But do post a few choiceresponses and not just to those who say something polite. You
ll find Twitter far more usefulif you actually engage with people. You
ll also surprise and impress people when yourespond, because rather like the way that people don
t expect you to be Tweetingpersonally, they don
t expect you to ever respond either.
6.
 
D
ont get offended!
You
re a politician and you probably already have or are in the process of developing a thickskin.
I
f not then don
t even think about being active on Twitter  you
ll just get sad! Sincethe medium is largely anonymous people will write in 140 characters what they
d neverdream of saying to your face.
I
would estimate that the comments that range from negativeto outright abusive outnumber the positive by two to one. But once you know this is thenature of the Twitter beast this really doesn
t matter. As
I
m about to explain in #7, you canuse it as your personal instant YouGov polling system. Here
s how
7.
 
Pay attention to your @ Twitter comments
R
ight. Now you
ve resolved not to be offended, here
s how to make use of your Twitterfeed. The next time you
re over at Millbank doing a Live on the News Channel or Sky, alertyour Twitter followers just before you go on air. Then afterwards switch your mobile back onand expect instant feedback. When
I
was recently talking to the BBC about why High Streetshops could still have a future, despite the rise of 
I
nternet retail,
I
made several points abouthow Town Centres enable human contact, yet somehow failed to point out the most obviousadvantage that you can actually touch and feel the goods you
re about to buy.
I
quick glanceat the Twitter feed afterwards reminded me. Two minutes later
I
had reworked the line liveon Sky News. Hearing how viewers interpreted your performance is gold dust feedback andit
s instantly available for active Twitter politicians and anyone else on the media.
8.
 
B
e self-deprecating
Twitter is great at putting people in their place. So avoid being pompous, getting overlyoffended or taking comments too seriously when you respond.
I
f you Tweet from yourmobile (
I
use the excellentTweetCasteravailable on Android, iPhone, Blackberry andWindows) then sooner or later the auto-correction feature will shame you by twistingsomething you meant to say. When you make a mistake Tweets will quickly appearsuggesting that your office intern screwed up. So, put your own hands up. Make a jokeabout it and move on. Accidents happen. Of course the nature is Twitter is fast and furious
 
Twitter and Politics
3@grantshappsand so mistakes will occur. Try to demonstrate you have a sense of humour when they do.
9.
 
Never Tweet in anger!
With Twitter on your mobile phone the temptation to sneak a peek wherever you are maybecome irresistible. So there you are, having had a couple of drinks and suddenly you noticeyou
re being flamed for something you didn
t even say. The temptation to get stuck instraightaway can be high. Warning: Tweets sent in anger are nearly always a B
I
G mistakeand could even become career ending. Which brings me to my last rule of thumb for MPs onTwitter.
10.
 
R
ead it back before you hit the Tweet button
D
espite all the risks,
I
highly recommend Twitter. Not only can you link it to your Facebookpage, but you can display Twitter badges on your websitelike this.
I
even run a Twitter feedat the top of this Forumthat
I
run for local residents. The great thing is that when you hitthe Send button your pearls of wisdom are going to show up in multiple locations, increasingyour audience. But before you hit the Tweet button get into the habit of pausing andcarefully re-reading whatever you
ve just written. For many of the reasons described above,a moments discretion could save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
I
n fact, if you happen tobe standing next to someone trustworthy, let them take a quick read before you hit Tweet.
 Extra TIP #1:
I
generally think it
s a missed opportunity to Tweet something without including a link.
I
f peoplewant to read further into the subject then that link could be a website to the piece of news you
recommenting on. You should always take readers with you, so mention other people
s @ if they
veasked you a question. And make maximum use of # tags. These are kind of unofficial so it cansometimes be difficult to discover the correct hash tag for the subject or programme. When you douse them effectively you
ll find the number of Followers will grow more rapidly. A few like #bbcqt(Question Time) always trend (rank amongst the most used on Twitter) during the programme.
Extra TIP #2:
You
ll need to decide the extent to which you intend to follow people back.
I
recommend avoidingthe two most extreme positions of following almost no one back or following everyone back.When you follow no one it
s hard to claim that you
re truly engaged with your Twitter followers.When you follow everyone back it
s frankly spamming to get followers. There are lots of folk whowill follow you back just because you follow them and this becomes evident if you have the samenumber of followers as those you
re following.A good ratio is two followers for each one that you follow.

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