How to shut down or redirect an official Ministerial or agency social media account

With the change in Australia’s Prime Minister last week, the resignation of a large handful of Ministers, and the announcement of new Ministers this week, we’ve seen some interesting approaches to shutting down Ministerial Twitter accounts.

Senator Jacinta Collins closed her Ministerial account with two very-matter-of-fact tweets, redirecting people to the new Ministers:

Senator Conroy, Wayne Swan MP and Peter Garrett MP ended on higher notes, before the new Ministry was announced (therefore not redirecting to new Ministers):

My point in highlighting these tweets is to consider how Ministers and agencies should close down their Twitter or other social media accounts after losing a position (for a Minister) or are ‘MOGed’ (Machinery of Government) – merged into another agency or disbanded (for an agency or department).

Clearly there’s a range of transition or shut down steps that need to be taken in any of these cases and social media can be at the bottom of the list of concerns. However as social channels are increasingly important methods for contacting a Minister or agency, there does need to be some care taken to continue monitoring live accounts and providing appropriate redirection instructions (as Senator Collins has done for her account).

So how should accounts be shutdown or redirected?

Here’s some suggested steps:

  1. Transfer the account and keep operating it if feasible. Sure a person may have left a position, or an agency’s duties may be subsumed into another department, however in many cases the role or responsibility hasn’t disappeared entirely.

    A social media audience is an asset – companies and agencies pay a great deal of money to access the audiences ‘owned’ by media outlets and it is not sensible to throw away a Minister or agency’s audience just because of a change in personnel.

  2. If a position is disappearing or an agency’s role is ending, avoid an immediate shutdown or cessation of activity on an account. Yes Ministers can disappear overnight, and agencies can be swallowed up quite quickly, however it takes longer for all members of the community to get the message that a change has occurred.

    Abrupt disconnects can also be disrespectful if handled poorly, leaving a community upset and abandoned – just like walking away from a conversation with someone while you or they are in mid-sentence.

    Continue monitoring and communicating through the account for at least a few days, and preferably a few weeks to retain the connection with the community and allow a gradual withdrawal and redirection. This will help maintain the relationship during the transition and ensure that the new Minister or agency has a base to build on.

  3. Communicate the change actively, not just through tweets and posts, but also in the profile and ‘about’ information for an account. Tweets and posts appear and disappear in peoples’ streams whereas profile information is there continually, ensuring followers and visitors can see the message at anytime.

    If continuing to communicate through the account (such as during a handover or to prevent issues around an immediate shutdown), ensure that you periodically communicate the change via tweets and posts as well.

  4. Give people somewhere to go. When shutting down an account, provide details of where people should go to continue to follow the topic. For an agency this means directing people to the new agency’s social media accounts (if they have them), for a Minister it means (if the same party) directing them to the new Minister’s social media accounts, as Senator Collins did in her accounts as illustrated above, or to the department or political party’s accounts if the new Minister doesn’t have a social presence.

    If there’s a change in government occurring, it is unlikely that a Minister or their advisors would be very willing to provide the community with a link to their successor however, if the account is personally operated, redirecting to the ex-Minister’s personal account or political party’s account is an option instead.

In summary, if agencies and Ministers avoid abruptly ending the conversation (abandoning their audience), communicate the change clearly and provide a path for people who wish to continue to follow the topic and have a conversation, changes in social media accounts can be managed quite effectively without losing reputation or respect and avoiding negative consequences or attention.

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