Public Sector Can’t Do Twitter

Let’s talk about public sector organisations using Twitter. In particular, those funded by the taxpayer.

Many councils and arms of Government have decided (read: been told) that they need to get on board with the digital age, and seek new ways to ‘engage with the public’ through different mediums. We expect them to be there, and so it makes sense that they are. In principle, this is a good thing. Organisations with such a direct role in people’s everyday lives should definitely be aware of the shift in how we are communicating. However, their response has to be considered, with a clear purpose, and strategy. It is clear that for many of those who are currently active on social media in this sphere, they don’t actually have a clue; more a case of diving in because they feel like they should, rather than having any real conception of what approach they should be taking.

Cardinal Sin Number One: ‘We don’t respond to messages’

The oft-repeated mantra across many public sector accounts is something along the lines of: “we monitor messages that we receive, but do not reply to them”. That is, if you are even lucky enough to get any sort of indication that somebody is actually behind these accounts. Glasgow City Council (@GlasgowCC) is one example of a local authority that don’t even bother to warn you about their blanket disregard for questions or comments they receive. Personally, I prefer this account… at least they reply:

Do us proud, Glasgow.

When challenged (not over Twitter of course, because you wouldn’t get a response that way), what almost always happens is that those who are responsible for these accounts throw up their hands in faux despair, pointing to the legitimate concerns about the questions about funding in the current economic situation (ad nauseam). The benefits of using social media channels for ‘engagement’ are addressed in volume elsewhere, but we have to ask what exactly the point in an organisation investing any time in Twitter is, if they aren’t prepared to use it properly? Save the time and effort and get offline rather than building a house with sand foundations and making our towns and cities look out of touch, please.

Cardinal Sin Number Two: Posting Utter Guff

Imagine the most boring person you know, and multiply their drudgery tenfold. Now imagine being stuck with that same person at a party, where they spend all night randomly interjecting otherwise exhilarating conversations with banal statements that everybody already knows, and tries to ignore.

That fairly accurately describes the existence of most British councils that are on Twitter. It’s true that we shouldn’t really expect matters so regionally specific to be any more exciting than the weekly local newspapers, but routinely they manage to sink to even lower depths. Clearly devoid of anything worthwhile to say, at all, South Ayrshire Council chose to climb up onto the world stage with great fanfare and flourish, to deliver this poignant message:

Thank God for this reminder!
Thank God for this reminder!

Words actually fail me.

Seriously though, this is one of the most ridiculous, pointless tweets I’ve ever seen – and I follow @horse_ebooks

@horse_ebooks - beating the public sector at Twitter with one hoof
@horse_ebooks – beating the public sector at Twitter with one hoof

There is so much wrong with the approach highlighted in the South Ayrshire example that it’s tough to know where to begin. How is this tweet relevant… to anybody? Is your target market really the tiny number of users that might be about to park a car somewhere in South Ayrshire, who are also checking Twitter at the same time? (not to mention the illegality of using your phone whilst driving). Total nonsense. Unless, of course, the role of Twitter is to randomly remind us of illegal acts. Maybe they should say DO NOT MURDER.

If you have time to post this sort of pish, then you have time to reply to people. No excuses.

Cardinal Sin Number Three: Not Reading What (or who) You Tweet:

There are a few larger organisations that actually do have a decent amount of stuff to talk about. Things that concern a lot of us; things that we might well be prepared to sacrifice a lack of correspondence to be kept up to date with. After all, plenty of people follow celebrities because they find what they say interesting (well…), not because they expect to get a personal reply.

The trouble is, public figures tend to be fairly savvy at using the technology for their own means; they have built their careers on galvanising crowds of people, after all. Sadly, this does not seem to apply to the public sector world.

A wonderful example comes from the Department of Work & Pensions. They are already guilty of committing Cardinal Sin Number 1 (and let’s face it, not too far from the folly of Cardinal Sin Number 2 either), but they manage to rack up a hat-trick by seemingly not even proof-reading what they post in the first place.

One tweet from early October linked to a video featuring Clare Pelham – Chief Executive of a disability charity – about issues relating to employment. In of itself, this was a great bit of content to share. However, it all went wrong. This is the Clare Pelham that they meant to mention:

Will the real Clare Pelham Please Stand Up?
Will the real Clare Pelham Please Stand Up?

…and this is the Clare that they actually ended up attributing:

@clare in promotion shocker
@clare in promotion shocker

Now I’m no expert in this field, but I’m sure that @clare might also be a bit surprised to hear the UK Government talking about her recent promotion. For reference, here is the offending tweet, in all of its tainted glory:

DWP Twitter Fail
DWP Twitter Fail


Okay, so we all make mistakes. I’ve done (and do) it regularly. That might shock some of you, given my sheer articulate brilliance, but it’s true. However, I usually spot and rectify them within 0.6 seconds of the tweet going out to the world, and hang my head in shame. Not the DWP though! This particular example stayed online for at least ten days after going out. They did manage to get it right in following iterations, so it’s bizarre that they didn’t go back and make a correction. It’s probably still there, but I am too dis-heartened to check. 

This wasn’t a once off either. Less than a week later they were at it again, this time with rogue characters that should have been removed before posting:

That quotation mark has no business being there
That quotation mark has no business being there

Please… read before you tweet. (and if you can’t, delete it and throw yourself upon the mercy of the Twittersphere)

Cardinal Sin Number Four: Simply Not Getting It

To close, I leave you with an insight into the behaviour of Orkney Islands Council… the behaviour of which is best left without comment:

Routine check for… what?