I’m fairly late to the party on this one, but Downing Street is Twittering. As is HMGov, which came first - both being official UK Government presences in the Twittersphere.
My initial reaction was “meh” - about the very last thing anyone on the planet needs is yet another conduit for the tedious, unadventurous, corporate and just plain bland waffle that characterises the spoutings of central Government PR. After 11 years of New Labour media management, my default setting when hearing anything emanating from government is - to misquote Jeremy Paxman - “why are the lying bastards lying to me?”
And that pretty much sums up HMGov - it’s regurgitated press releases that noone read previously, shovel-wared via RSS into Twitter so noone will read them now that they’re only 140 characters long. Nice example of how to do it technically, but a waste of time from a “contributing to the good of humanity” point of view.
Downing Street started in much the same way - “PM marks 90 years of the RAF and 100 years of the Territorial Army in Downing Street statements”, “PM outlines measures to protect the UK from turbulence in the global economy at his press conference”, that sort of thing. But then as other Twitter users started to prod it to see if there was actually anyone behind the front door, Downing Street actually started to respond. Which is pretty much unique, as far as I can see.
Of course, the responding is being done by Downing Street staffers - I would guess they’d have to be civil servants, given the rules about how official Government channels can be used - and not the actual political inhabitants. Which is a shame, because it’s the politicians who need to be plugged into this - about the only people left in the country who think 42-day-detention is a good idea are Gordon Brown and Jacquie Smith, and still she spent Sunday morning lecturing Andrew Marr about how “the Government are listening”. Exposing them to something as immediate and conversational as Twitter could only be a positive thing.
I expect that this initial burst of conversational engagement will be fairly short-lived, as the more risk-averse holders of the levers of power hear about this - presumably by email - and clamp down. And it’ll be a cold day in hell before our Prime Minister Twitters personally. Trying as hard as I can to not be cynical about our government - and god knows how hard that is - it’s nice to think that this might be the start of something. And I’m impressed that I got followed back within 10 minutes of following Downing Street - so either there’s someone monitoring it, even at this late hour, or someone’s written an auto-follow bot. Both impressive in their own ways.