So, Call-me-Dave’s finally seen the way the wind is blowing and wants to engage the 10 million Brits on Twitter. Thing is, he’s making a bit of a hash (pardon the pun) of it, and there’s nothing but some (slightly funny) abuse aimed at him on Twitter. Question is, what should he really have done with his maiden weeks on Twitter?
The first thing Dave (or whichever hapless staffer’s running the account) needs to do is sit down and take a long, hard look at what the difference between @David_Cameron and @Number10gov should be. The official PM’s office Twitter feed has been around for a while, doing the standard official feed thing and just churning out press releases in a shorter, dryer and mercifully succinct 160 character format. This is excusable for an official feed, and no one expects anything more than bland, vaguely upbeat drivel from this sort of account.
Shame then that our esteemed PM’s done exactly this, proving beyond a doubt that he doesn’t really know what Twitter’s all about. For a politician, social media presents an amazing opportunity – as mentioned above, 10 million Brits are on Twitter, and apart from the inevitable trolls, a fair few are more than happy to engage in reasonable debate. But, it’s a little bit hard to talk to an automated RSS feed (which is what @David_Cameron seems to be), so now 99 per cent of the tweets with the @David_Cameron handle are just pure, unchallenged abuse aimed at Cameron and his policies. Even worse, it’s not just the public – senior Labour political figures are joining in the slanging match, with no hint of a challenge coming from the Tory corner.
Yep, there’s even more incompetence. Since he joined Twitter, Cameron’s followed 35 people – 32 Tory MPs, 2 Tory MSPs and one Tory mayor (no prize for guessing which one). Also, he has the bare-faced cheek (or ignorance, I don’t know which is worse) to use the #welovethenhs hashtag – despite the fact that this is the rallying call for everyone opposed to his plans for the NHS.
Two great signs of govt successes today – crime down again and proof NHS spending is rising #welovethenhs
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) October 18, 2012
The outrage is so bad a search for “David Cameron” returns a page full of tweets like this (or worse):
— Cannabis For Autism (@Cannabis4Autism) October 18, 2012
Further showing that Dave doesn’t really listen to what people say about him on Twitter, a few hours after his first #welovethenhs blunder, he repeated it in his next tweet, to a chorus of even more abuse, this time from the Daily Telegraph’s official blog.
And still, there’s no response on Twitter. Nada. Zilch. This isn’t rocket science — pretty much all big political figures have decent engagement with each other and with the public on Twitter. Even in a storm, with millions of hate-filled tweets, a bit of well-placed banter can reverse the tide and get you God knows how many column inches of praise. (See this example from O2’s network outage for a masterclass in Twitter PR.)
The problem is, while I can’t find anything from Cameron’s Twitter that provokes a thought, let alone a smile, there’s a whole list of funny questions under #askdave:
Hello @david_cameron What’s your favourite sandwich? Mine is bacon and coleslaw on toasted white bread. I bet yours is the tears of the poor
— I Sking (@SatanWriter) October 8, 2012
— Beverley Ikin (@That_Bev) October 13, 2012
Even the spoof Cameron accounts can come up with better stuff:
Eric Pickles and I are enjoying our annual sport of chucking pork pies at leftie protestors from the roof #CPC12
— Fake Dave Cameron (@David_CameronPM) October 7, 2012
Really, what this all boils down to is understanding Twitter. If you use it like an extension of your press office, you’re going to achieve nothing, and create a big, helpless target for pretty damning abuse. Twitter’s got two key things going for it that nothing else does – engagement and informality. For a PM who’s fighting an image campaign against a perception as a toff, this would seem like pretty key stuff. Put some piccies up, something candid that says a little bit about you as a person.
Tell people you care about their health problems or difficulty finding a house, and have a bit of a public row with someone to get your fanboys all riled up. It’s all stuff politicians do anyway, but in the informal context of Twitter it has this vague whiff of sincerity. Yeah, you’ll get some abuse, but I promise it’ll be less than inanely tweeting away about unemployment figures and then blithely sticking your fingers in your ears and pretending the comments don’t exist. What do you think, though? What should our fearless leader use his Twitter account for? Let us know, and we can tweet it all at him, safe in the knowledge he won’t listen.