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Can government leverage Twitter or is it just a big waste of time?

Twitter Conversations

Okay, so I admit that I’ve been on the fence on this issue for quite a while now. Last year, I started off as a Twitter effectiveness denier, and then quickly found myself making use of it more and more (especially as new, sister-applications were developed). My own main use is simply “being in the know”. I love the fact that I find out about something AS IT HAPPENS. It’s a sense that not every type of person may appreciate, but it’s definitely worth something. Whether you like it or not, if you’re in communications or marketing, you may soon have no choice.

Consider these stats:

  • 2.5 million monthly users
  • Over 428,000 tweets a day
  • Representation from nearly every country on earth

So what’s the big deal? Why should someone working in the government even care?

  • These are conversations going on right now!
  • You can easily filter, aggregate, and respond
  • A single post can blow your PR release out of the water in terms of search engine visibility.
  • The medium allows for amplification (via rss)

Tips to get started as a Twitter’ for a government department:

  • Create a profile that clearly identifies you as an employee (e.g. JohnSmith@HealthCanada). You can have a separate “personal” account but I would recommend having one and one only since you should be speaking as a “human voice” anyway. Don’t forget to add a photo!
  • Use Twhirl or Tweetdeck to manage everything and make your actual posts (instead of going to the web site). These apps are based on Adobe AIR, which essentially means they take very little system resources and are ridiculously easy to use.
  • If you’re so desperate on time that you can’t even manage to write 140 characters, you can use Twittertise or Tweetlater to schedule Tweets if you do things on a regular schedule. For example, if your news release must go out everyday by 9am, have Twittertise send out a 9am tweet “Just posted a news release for Health Canada…” with a link. You even get to track responses and views.
  • My personal favourite is of course Twitter Search which I use pretty much 90% of the time I’m doing anything related to Twitter. Use this to track what people are talking about RIGHT NOW! You can use specific keywords, names, or simply look at the trending topics if relevant. Note that once you enter a query and start browsing through the results, Twitter Search will post a little message mentioning how many new tweets were posted since you pressed enter. Type in Sarah Palin just for fun and see for yourself.
  • Start following other government employees right now! (thank you Nedra Weinreich for reminding me). Here is a list of government Twitter users from the U.S and a list of U.K government Twitter users. I’m yet to find a Canadian list…perhaps I’ll make one myself one of these days.

Make no mistake, I fully understand that public sector organizations are in a different boat and have much more red tape and/or stagnancy than the private sector. However guess what? That doesn’t have to affect you! You can start using Twitter right now. As of now, it’s not blocked in most Canadian government departments and it’s free! As for communication policies, read over your employee contract, everything is there. The same rules apply as if you were having a dinner conversation or phone conversation with a concerned citizen.

That’s my two cents on Twitter for the day.  You can follow me at

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  1. I assume you mean 2.5 million users? I know I’ve seen more than 2-1/2 people on there. 🙂 I was going to provide a link to SocialButterfly’s list of US government agencies using Twitter, but I just saw you had left a comment there so you already know about it. For the rest of your readers:

    Thanks for the great quick-start summary I can share with others!

  2. Thanks Mike and Nedra! Look forward to the day our paths intersect Mike, and I agree…and often advise, that before one recommends their organization (gov’t or not) to adopt these new social media tools such as Twitter, to try it out on their own. And Twitter search one can use without even having a Twitter account too.
    Happy learning! =)

  3. Lol…thanks Nedra…ya I sure hope more than 2.5 people are on there. As for the list, I meant to add that link in as one of the points. Thanks for the reminder! It’s back in now

  4. Mike,

    Great post! I would argue that there is room for a little bit of anonymity on twitter. Whilst the people using @downingstreet are’t identifiable they still speak with a pretty convincing ‘human’ voice.

    Two other tools I’d reccomend for any aspiring government twitter user – twitterfeed and tweetburner. The combination of these two tools can be pretty impressive, and also provides a metric see:

    I’ve found the metrics can be quite helpful when trying to justify twitter activity to senior executives!

  5. Good point Justin, I too have seen great use of anonymity. My only problem is that I also often see anonymity combined with typical recycled traditional press releases behind it. When used correctly, anonymity can be just as effective.

    Thanks for the additional tools!

  6. Good article. I’m a small town adminstrator on the cusp of nudging our local government into the twitterverse. We’d be the first in Nova Scotia (Canada). Trouble is this precinct of the T-verse is pretty much a vacuum right now. An assumption taken up by egov afficianados is a burgeoning, busy-as-heck, pre-existing community.

    Nudging others is not easy because as we know, Twitter is often first met with stern resistance. It takes quite a bit of time to catch on one-by-one, let alone communities.

    I suppose, though, that this offers a “clean slate”, an opportunity of sorts.


  7. I’d like to add Twellow ( as another great resource where newbies can select who they want to follow based on their industry. This builds on the original Twitter Packs idea (Google “Twitter Packs” if you’re curious).

  8. […] minuto a minuto que están haciendo como el cuerpo de bomberos de Los Angeles e incluso ya hay reflexiones y consejos de como la Administración Pública puede aprovechar Twitter para mejorar su servicio y relación con los […]

  9. Great article Mike! Will definitely forward via email to all my colleagues (since most are not on Twitter…sigh)

    One thing I think is important to mention is the fact that many government departments (will not name names) block sites like Twitter or have parts of the site load slowly due to security settings. In order for more people in the public service to use these tools more, there has to be a change on this front…


  10. Hey Ana, I agree 100%. That being said there are numerous workarounds such as subscribing to specific rss feeds from Twitter, or getting your own unblocked mobile device.

  11. Hi Mike,
    Shortly after I commented here, I got an iPhone and some great Twitter apps, and now I’m addicted to it on the go!

    One thing I have to mention about your recommendation above is that for some people, such as myself, having one account simply doesn’t work as well. For example, I work for the government and have an interest in Gov 2.0, I also do freelance web & graphic design on the side, as well as marketing for a family business that is completely unrelated to the first two interests.

    Hence, I currently have three professional interest accounts, and eventually, I’m going to create a personal one, where I communicate with friends and family (so far not many of them on Twitter, so makes no sense). The people I follow under each account and what they Tweet about is quite different, and I can, for example look at the “design’ focused account when I’m working on a new project.

    For more details on my thought process and some of the Pros & Cons of having multiple Twitter accounts, see my blog post at . Feel free to add any other Pros/Cons you can think of!


  12. Hey Ana, thanks for the comment! I actually agree with you about having multiple Twitter accounts for specific purposes. My point was regarding combining the “personal” element of a username with the “business” element (i.e the human touch).

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