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Gov geek publishes 5000-word Twitter guide

It only takes an hour a day to present a human face

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The world was given an insight into how both Twitter and the UK's e-government work today when the national media discovered one of Whitehall's in-house self-proclaimed web geek's guide to using Twitter.

Neil Williams, head of corporate digital channels at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, quietly posted his compact 5,382 word guide to setting up UK.gov Twitter feeds here last week. Highlighting the lightning speed at which web 2.0 can work, by this morning it was plastered all over the papers.

The guide pitches Twitter as "free to use with a relatively low impact on resources [with] the potential to deliver many benefits in support of our communications objectives".

It is, Williams says, "experiencing a phenomenal adoption curve in the UK and being used increasingly by government departments, Members of Parliament, a number of our stakeholders as well as millions of businesses, non government organisations and individuals."

So of course, the government would be mad not to use it. It's not like you're going to be relying on bumping into the first three of these groups walking down Whitehall, or wandering around the palace of Westminster, or on the diplomatic cocktail round. And clearly the rest have given up on boring old newspapers, TV, radio, etc.

Williams advises his colleagues that using Twitter means government depts can present folk with "an informal, ‘human’ voice of the organisation to promote comprehension of and engagement with our corporate messages".

At the same time, he warns, there are risks associated with breaches of Twitter etiquette, such as "Criticism arising from an inability to meet the demands of Twitter users to join conversations/answer enquiries, due to resource and clearance issues".

Even worse, there is the risk of inappropriate content being unleashed. This of course should be managed through the traditional methods of leaking and briefing-against one's political and departmental enemies.

Still, a credible operation can be up and running for just an hour a day's work from a department's Digital Media team, Williams reckons. That includes "sourcing and publishing tweets, co-ordinating replies to incoming messages and monitoring the account".

That's not all in one burst though. Messages - sorry, tweets - should be spaced at least 30 minutes apart, with a minimum of two tweets and a max of ten. Yes, that's how often and how much you need to show you're human.

We're not sure what the digital media team members will be doing the rest of the time, but we're imagining at least some of it will involve walking down Whitehall, wandering around the palace of Westminster, doing the diplomatic cocktail party round, etc.

We wondered how this sudden brush with fame had affected Williams. We went to his Twitter feed, naturally, but he now appears to be coyly protecting his tweets. His blog is up and running, though, and provides some background; amongst other things, he describes himself as a "lapsed comedy writer". ®

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