@foreignoffice hits 3000

At the Foreign Office, we’ve made a small song and dance about the 3,000th tweet of the @foreignoffice twitter account.

I can hide such vanity by noting that the 3,000th tweet is no morimportant than the 2,999 or the 3,001 (and less so if this blog is the subject). Yet it feels like a milestone, as round numbers do.

We’ve grown quite significantly since we started in 2008, and have gathered over 60 other twitter accounts from civil servants, ambassadors, embassies and the Foreign Secretary himself has joined in. You can follow them all here.

And if you do, you’ll find we automatically follow you back. You’ll know that because you get a message back (sending you, for one thing, to that list of all our twitterers). We follow you back, so that we can direct message people. Twitter isn’t meant to be a dressed up news feed, it’s supposed to be social media, which means we have to connect – be open to direct dialogue so that we can help, or guide you to the people who can. Although, to warn you, the twitter feed is manned by civil servants, so if you try and argue with the @foreignoffice account, you won’t get much joy. We provide information and interaction as best we can, but we’re not the channel for debate on policy. Where there are ministers and ambassadors on twitter they may engage more directly on policy, either through set-piece engagements, as with the Foreign Secretary during his recent trips to India, Afghanistan and Japan , or through the more usual ‘conversations’.

Where it does come into its own is in displaying quickly, and to a potentially huge audience, urgent information – during the ash cloud crisis, for example, we were tweeting from the @foreignoffice account and the @britishabroad account almost on an hourly basis as the situation changed rapidly. The @britishabroad account is a specific travel advice feed, very handy if you still have plans to go away this summer – though we sometimes tweet out the same message on a number of accounts to make sure that important messages have the maximum reach.

And the re-tweets and the click-throughs would show that people are listening – and you don’t need to take my word for it – the recent tweetminster report had the @foreignoffice account down as the ‘most mentioned and re-tweeted account in Westminster’. A proud boast indeed.

So we’re growing the reach and growing the number of twitterers within the Foreign Office – to help broaden the possibility of engagement and to help widen the distribution network of the content we have. We haven’t reached a point where it is compulsory for senior diplomats and all embassies to tweet, we let them juggle their own priorities and expect them to understand the levels of interest and access to social media in their own areas. But we’re continuing to grow the twitter imprint, so as to continue to provide access to information we think might be of interest – have a look at this representation to see what sort of things the whole network is tweeting about.

And as we reach 3,000, its also time to take a proper look at what we do – is it worth it? Does it help people to better understand the work of the FCO? Does it increase the engagement we can do? I’d be interested in your thoughts below.

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Martha Garvey

Congratulations. I’d be curious about this:

How have your tweets evolved over time? What do you think you should start? Stop? Continue?

Any patterns observed about who follows you, and when? For instance, as the ash crisis abated, did you lose followers?

I *am* curious just how much human bandwidth is necessary to get to 3,000 tweets. Who staffs? How do you hand off when someone is on vacation?

And finally, what would you like your celebratory Twitter cupcake to read? 🙂


Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachs

Congratulations and great insights! I particularly liked this truth: “Twitter isn’t meant to be a dressed up news feed, it’s supposed to be social media, which means we have to connect – be open to direct dialogue so that we can help, or guide you to the people who can.” If only more would begin to see it that way…

Jimmy Leach

Sorry for the tardy response, I disappeared on holiday (vacation, sorry).

Thanks Jay, very kind comments

Martha – the tweets have evolved – on the official accounts, mostly in the ‘normal’ way, as we’ve become used to the language, the discipline, the hashtags and so on. We’ve just become a little better at it. In the wider Foreign Office presence, it’s just about the people – the ministers and officials who have used it, in this administration and the previous one. Of the current ministers affiliated to the office, only William Hague tweets at the moment (@williamjhague), and he tends to concentrate on the set-pieces – twitter chats centred around a visit, which he’s done on trips to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan. Very effective episodes of direct dialogue (which answers your question, I hope, Govloop)

And the question on how much time it takes gets asked a lot. There’s a few people with access, and its usually whoever’s hand is on the tiller at the time. Doesn’t take long to tweet, after all. And as the rest of the team are bored of me saying, a piece of content/information shouldn’t just be published, it should be ‘delivered’, and this is part of that.

And Martha, if you can get the Foreign Office crest on the cupcake, that’ll be great…