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.