Corporate communications + Public Relations Adelaide


July 2010

Why politicians will never embrace Twitter

Hot on the heels of my blog looking at social media’s blind date with Australian politics, I thought it was timely to remind ourselves why MPs will never fully embrace Twitter.

Most politicians don’t use Twitter to its full potential. It’s important to understand why – and a behind-the-scenes look at political life will help.

But first, what is Twitter’s full potential? Here’s an indication of what you can do to get the most out of Twitter:

  • Follow lots of people or accounts you’re interested in
  • Reply  to people who tweet you
  • Initiate conversations on Twitter (which may occasionally mean butting into a conversation)
  • Use Twitter to share articles or web pages you’ve enjoyed
  • Use Twitter as the hub of other activity: for example, where you’ve been, via Foursquare, or what you’re watching, via Miso, and pictures of your daily life via Twitpic
  • Attend tweet-ups: meet your Twitter friends in real life
  • Use a tool or platform like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck or Seesmic to manage Twitter conversations rather than the relatively uninspiring and flat

 The majority of politicians on Twitter don’t do any of this. And this is perplexing to some Twitter users who are politically-engaged. They want to have Twitter policy debates with pollies, yet their representatives aren’t taking part.

Why am I qualified to blog about this? I used to work in politics. I was an electorate officer, then press officer, then Chief of Staff to a Federal MP. I spent three and a half years on and off in Parliament House in Canberra. I also worked in the media office of a former State Premier, and on a temp basis for other Federal MPs (on returning from a backpacking holiday …) In addition, I’m an avid tweeter.

Politicians have it tough. Lots of people want a piece of them. And they’re bombarded with communications. Yes, it’s part of their job, they are well paid and they wanted the job. But the job isn’t easy and politicians are constantly overwhelmed by communications.

Politicians are bombarded
Politicians are bombarded

Every day, their office is flooded with visitors, telephone calls, emails, faxes and letters. This communication is often made up of complaints, demands, pleas and threats. They have to deal with the needs of their constituents, their party, supporters, detractors and the media – as well as the colleagues, friends and family that you and I deal with every day. All of this under immense public scrutiny. They quickly learn to be very careful about what they say and what they promise.

When you throw social media into the mix, it’s a new form of torture for them.

A platform like Twitter opens up another channel for politicians to deal with and fret over. I’m a big Twitter fan, and I believe in government engaging with the community in the forums that suit the community. But I’m also aware of the demands of using Twitter to its full potential and the demands of politics – and they’re not a good mix. I believe most politicians see Twitter as a danger. It’s another communication channel for them to worry about: a highly visible channel, where things can come undone in a matter of seconds.

If an MP replies to a Twitter follower, where will it end? Many Twitter users get a buzz out of talking to friends, let alone high profile tweeters. One Reply could lead to a long Twitter conversation. Or a harassing, haranguing Twitter dialogue that is staged over days or weeks.

Busy politicians – always cognisant of their comments, their image, their obligations – simply can’t afford to use Twitter as a conversation medium.

Not unless politics itself changes.

And that’s why we’re stuck with the political tweets which do one of the following:

  • Give an update on where the MP is right now (ie “I’m opening a new school”  or “I’m listening to the Prime Minister launch a new policy for our roads”)
  • Take a swipe at the opposing party (“No one will believe KFol/Ranny didn’t know about this massive budget black hole before the election and yet they hid this info from public”)
  • Duplicate what they’ve said elsewhere, ie campaign promises or advertising slogans (“This election is about giving a great people a better government. The Coalition will end the waste, stop the taxes and stop the boats”)

Why on earth would anyone want to subscribe to that sort of Twitter feed?

Most tweeting politicians have made the conscious decision (based on their own experience, timidity, caution, wisdom, or the advice of others), not to use Twitter to talk with the electorate. To them, Twitter is a new broadcast channel – the flavour of the month. They’ve heard about their political leaders using Twitter and they’re simply adding it to their mix of stump speeches, doorknocking, newsletters and press releases.

This isn’t to say that Twitter has no place to play in the election. It will of course continue to be highly useful in breaking news. The Australian press gallery has taken to Twitter. As John Bergin put it, an avid handful of journalistic tweeters has developed a “backchannel” of communications for the community to tap into.

Bergin quotes journalist and academic Julie Posetti, who says “Twitter will be a platform for citizen journalism, interactive political reporting and engagement between politicians, voters, analysts and the fourth estate.”

Yes, there will be some engagement there – but within that mix, very little from politicians themselves. Politicians will continue to broadcast one-way, while voters, analysts and media pore over the words and debate amongst themselves.

There’s no doubt politicians and their staff will tap into the Twitter conversation. It will be another medium where they can monitor community sentiment. Twitter, like most social media platforms, is a great source of market research.

But don’t expect your local MP to debate you online any time soon. To them, it’s simply not worth the risk.

Prakky and the PM

Okay, time for some self love (still not sure how to spell narcissism).

Thanks to @ashsimmonds, I noted this week that Trendsmap had me listed as the top Adelaide tweeter: ahead of our dear Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Now, there may be few opportunities for me to be ranked above the nation’s PM, so I thought I’d paste the evidence in here and share a little further …

I promise to blog on something more substantial tomorrow!
Trendsmap for Adelaide 23 July 2010
Trendsmap for Adelaide 23 July 2010

Trendsmap for Adelaide 23 July 2010

 In fact, I am going to blog on why politicians will never engage with Twitter like we do …

p.s. If you’re wondering why a tag like “changelovetoknobsongs” is in there – it was fun at the time! Mmkay?

The ultimate blind date: Oz Politics and Social Media

Two hot topics collided this week.

The Australian Federal election .. and social media. Star-crossed lovers, their eyes met across a crowded forum.

“How will social media impact the Australian federal election campaign?” was the squeal.

“Will Twitter decide any seats?” “Which pollies have jumped on the Twitter bandwagon today?” “How will political journos use Twitter during the campaign?” “Which party has the lamest YouTube video?” These are the questions swirling around the online and offline water coolers.

It’s apparent that social media and Australian federal politics have been pushed into a blind date. And the whole world is watching, like Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. We want to know how the relationship will progress. Is it a match made in heaven, or will there be tears the morning after?

Of course, SocMedia and OzPolitics had heard of each other. Friends had tried to introduce them. But there’s been some hesitation. OzPolitics has been hurt before. OzPolitics is ambitious and acutely afraid of embarassment. It doesn’t have time to get to know SocMedia. It needs a relationship and it needs results – now.

Meanwhile, SocMedia suspects it’s too young and spunky for OzPolitics. SocMedia is extremely popular – it’s all about the fans. It’s already in bed with BigBusiness. It’s been taken out to glitzy places like YouTube and Facebook. It’s the centrepiece of major conferences. It’s the new subject at universities. OzPolitics could never keep up.

New relationships take time
New relationships take time
Nevertheless, SocMedia and OzPolitics have begun holding hands and tentatively stepping out together.
And, like most highly public and complicated relationships .. we all get to watch and have our say.


The TweetMP site has been set up to help us keep track of this young love: “Tweet MP documents all Federal Australian Members of Parliament on Twitter and encourages all MPs to join in order to make government more transparent. With your help, we can make Australia an even better democracy.”

This fabulous site gives you the ability to invite non-tweeting MPs to join Twitter. A form and standard note is all set up for you – and also a handy little RT option at the bottom of the page. These guys have thought of everything! You can make true love happen.

And we can follow the young couple on  Trendsmap , where it’s apparent that #ausvotes is the number one trending topic in Australia. Also, What The Hashtag logged almost 8,000 tweets using the #ausvotes hashtag on the day the election was called – 17 July –  slowing down to 4,400 the following day.  

Now, some are already calling the result of this relationship. SocMedia and OzPolitics won’t really take off – that seems to be the consensus.  Mumbrella says “This is not going to be an Obama-style social media-led uprising”. Tiphereth Gloria recently published a detailed analysis of the relationship thus far, noting that “There’s poor form overall from both Liberal and Labor”.

My relationship advice?

OzPolitics should be taking a long term view. You can’t build a relationship with SocMedia overnight. It needs to be wooed. Here’s some dating tips for OzPolitics:

– Talk to SocMedia every day; if you can’t speak, text or tweet
– When SocMedia talks to you, don’t ignore it. Respond. And respond promptly.
– Sometimes SocMedia will be grumpy. Be patient. Talk through the issues and find out what the problem is.
–Trust takes a long time to build.

And perhaps politicians could take heart from journalist Laurie Oakes, who has covered many a federal election and this year took up Twitter. Laurie has this to say: “I was a bit sceptical at first, but I quickly found myself enjoying the conversation. News travels very fast on Twitter, which is useful to someone in the news business.” His relationship seems to be a happy one.

Good Housekeeping … in the Digital World

Many of us are online now, signing up to all sorts of online communities and creating multiple profiles.

In some cases, we’ve registered for so many sites that we don’t realise how large our digital footprint is. We lose track of the profiles we’ve created, the photos we’ve uploaded, the forums we’ve commented in. This can create problems. After all, who needs to have:

Digital housekeeping, anyone?
Digital housekeeping, anyone?
  • Forums hosting outdated information on you
  • Old friends or colleagues trying to email you via a non existent account
  • Google serving up outdated photos of you with a 90s perm or acid wash jeans?

So, in the spirit of Good Housekeeping magazine, I’ve compiled a little list of digital housekeeping tips, to keep you from spreading muddy footprints:

  1. Career: Changed your job title? Got a promotion? Have you completed another training course? Check your LinkedIn account and see if you can update it, or expand on your profile. You’re always changing – so should your LinkedIn.
  2. School : Are you on one of the school reunion sites, like FriendsReunited or SchoolFriends? Does that profile have your most recent information in there? Have you recently married or swapped careers?
  3.  Years: if you’re comfortable with sharing more information about yourself, but don’t want it to become quickly updated, write the content online in such a way that it doesn’t have to be annually updated. For example, don’t write “About to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary” or “We have an 18 month old son”. Use specific dates, “We were married in 2001” “Our son was born in 2005”.
  4. Facebook status: How often do you forget to ‘clear’ your Facebook status update? Notice that it sits there until you do? A Facebook status can date quite quickly. For example “Can’t wait for the weekend” is stale by Monday. [Unless of course that’s your permanent state of being].
  5. Polls and surveys:  New tools have made these fun and easy to create. But I know I’ve created a poll and forgot to ever return to it! Ensure it’s set so that you’re reminded when it closes; or manually put the date in your calendar.
  6. Bookmarking tools: If you’re anything like me, you come across a lot of great sites and articles online. Remember to bookmark them in Delicious, Digg, or whatever your favourite bookmarking site is. With Delicious, I’ve downloaded the toolbar, so I only have to press CTRL+D to add a page to my Delicious account. Quick and easy. Otherwise, this great tool can stagnate.
  7. Twitter lists: For most twitterers, our follow list grows regularly. If you use Twitter lists, remember to keep them up to date. (And while you’re there: check your profile to see what lists you’ve been added to).
  8. Google yourself:  I know, it seems vain. But it’s sound practice. Google your name, see what comes up. It may remind you of old profiles you need to update, or news articles you want to refer to in your LinkedIn profile or blog. (Also check Google images – you may be surprised by what you find).
  9. And of course … Changed your relationship status? Do you need to update this on Facebook? (Or is that better left for an awkward conversation between you and your new/ex love interest?)

Above all, make sure each and every one of your accounts has a current email address for you. Email alerts are crucial to keep you in touch with what’s happening on the plethora of platforms you’ve signed up to. And here’s some other management tips, in the event that you ever get run over by a bus:

  • If you’re managing a profile or platform on behalf of your company, or another organisation, make sure you’re not the only administrator. Share access details, share management tips.
  • Have you got a Will? Think about your digital profiles. What happens to them if you die? Perhaps leave passwords saved in a safe place. Write some notes for your family: what would you like them to do with your Facebook profile or FlickR page if you weren’t around?  Would you like them to write to your followers and friends .. or shut the page down? Would you like any of it saved for future generations to pore over? It might become part of your family history (or not).

What are your favourite ways to manage your digital footprint?

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