U.K. agency releases 20-page policy for Twitter

20 pages for 140-character tweets?

UK official tackles Twitter
Source: United Kingdom

Is a 20-page policy statement overkill for Twitter? You might think so, but Neil Williams, head of corporate digital channels in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in the United Kingdom’s government, disagrees.

“I was surprised by just how much there is to say — and quite how worth saying it is, especially now the platform is more mature and less forgiving of mistakes,” he writes in a recent blog entry.

The policy itself, which Williams offers freely to other government agencies to “adopt it wholesale or remix” as needed, covers topics such as how to identify the department in tweets and in a Twitter profile; the right tone and topics for tweets; how often department officials should tweet (at least two tweets, but no more than 10, per day);  and how to follow other users.

On that last point: “We will actively follow other relevant organisations … We will not initiate contact by following individual, personal users as this may be interpreted as interfering/’Big Brother’-like behavior. We will, however, follow back anyone who follows our account.”

HHS on YouTube
Source: Health and Human Services

The Health and Human Services Department has posted its own guidelines for agency use of Twitter and YouTube.  HHS officials apparently want to keep it all in the federal family: One of the YouTube rules is, “Agency Channels may not friend nor accept friend requests from nongovernment Channels.”

The policy also forbids HHS agencies from allowing unmoderated comments, and requires agency approval even for moderated comments. The only option available to organizations under the policy that does not require approval is to forbid comments.

The Twitter policy is more lenient, allowing individual agencies to set their own rules regarding the approval of individual tweets.

In a blog entry on GovLoop, Brooke Fisher Liu wrote of the HHS guidelines: “The guidelines may strike some as not really ‘getting’ social media (e.g., advice to not respond to media inquiries via Twitter and potentially having each tweet approved by a manager), but definitely a huge step forward.” Liu is an assistant professor of public relations at the University of Maryland.

Fake agencies
Source: Gartner

Social media poses another kind of threat to federal (and state and local) agencies that no internal policy can help: fake agency presence.

Gartner blogger Andrea DiMaio writes about giving a presentation for an unidentified agency, and looked at the agency’s Web site and checked to see if it had a presence on social media sites. DiMaio found a Facebook group with about 900 members.

“The agency logo is on that page and the discussion boards suggests content that seems to come from the agency,” she wrote. “However, when you look at the group creator, he seems to be based in a location that is pretty much unrelated to the agency and his picture, in front of a beer, does not really look ‘official.’”
The agency’s information technology team was unaware of the apparently false Facebook page, she wrote. “However none could confirm or deny whether this was an official page or not: they could just guess – by looking at the page and creator’s picture – that it was unlikely to be official.”

DiMaio offers no solutions for agencies who find themselves in a similar situation, but warns that it’s something that can happen to anyone.


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