UPDATE: Would you believe it? Total Politics read this piece below and then got in touch. They invited us to contribute an opinion piece alongside none other than Nadine Dorries of jungle mania fame. The piece, “Does social media do more harm than good to politicians?” can be read over here, right now. Take a look and let us know what you think.
This morning, the issue of David Cameron’s new Twitter account divided the 33 office right down the middle. A useful tool for a Prime Minister, or an empty-shirt exercise destined for failure? Here, Peter Sigrist and Sam Philips battle it out:
The case FOR David Cameron’s Twitter feed – Peter Sigrist
At the time of writing this, Team Dave isn’t off to the most auspicious start on Twitter. Follower numbers are looking strong, but content is lacking spirit. ‘I promise there won’t be “too many tweets…”’ was slightly funny for Team Dave insiders but suggests a man who sees this as a hobby. And yet…
Twitter shouldn’t be a hobby for a politician. It’s the real deal. The chance to shape the debate, unfiltered access to the electorate. You may get roughed up for your undiluted views but you have the chance immediately to respond to objections, painting your reasons in colours of your choosing. Twitter’s never going to be a place for quick consensus, but it has the potential to give Team Cameron an unprecedented sense of the spread of opinions in the country.
For a politician of Cameron’s stature, this should have him salivating. No one ever became great except through many and great mistakes, and Twitter could and should be the perfect proving ground for bold ideas, gently floated, some to prosper and many to die. Anyone with the confidence and deftness to engage in that sort of debate will possess stronger opinions and better ideas at the far end, with ambiguity and vagueness forced out through honest argument.
A politician of Cameron’s stature should relish the opportunity to dip his cup right into the middle of the fast-flowing stream of Twitter, with all its head and heart, emotion and ideas, inspiration and stupidity. From Cameron’s point of view, as we all knew when we started using Twitter, it’s about who he follows. Reward those making valid arguments with your attention, ignore the idiots. Sometimes, perhaps regularly, he will face opprobrium and abuse. But what walkabout on a street in Middle England does not come with its fair share? Most of all, Cameron the tweeter should gain from closeness to the British populace; gain from the authenticity of the imperfect argument; gain from the ability to tell the people he Governs – “this is what I believe”.
Twitter should be the perfect place for a man of the stature of the Prime Minister to tread carefully, get some things right and some things wrong, and gain respect. But in order to get anywhere at all, he needs to tread. It’s fine if the drumbeat of the Official David Cameron Twitter feed is prosaic: ‘About to appear on @MarrShow‘. But the real value to him as a politician and a leader, and to us as the British people, will be realised when he’s himself, for better or worse.
People and the media these days are more accepting of gaffes if you are honest about them and deal with them in a human way. You need the stomach for the odd mistake, but which politician hasn’t always known that?
Let’s see if David Cameron takes this opportunity to have his voice heard.
The case AGAINST David Cameron’s Twitter feed – Sam Philips
Why shouldn’t David Cameron have a bash at Twitter? No reason at all, he absolutely should give it a go if he’s genuinely interested in it.
He probably shouldn’t do it, just because the other kids are doing it though. It’s much harder to establish and maintain an interesting, informative Twitter feed, than it is a blog for example. Twitter is live 24/7, there’s the expectation to be reactive and responsive, to show the real version of the world you live in, while a blog allows the user to be more considered and less ‘on’.
And so if this new way of sharing doesn’t come naturally, then it could become a problem. You might appear as disingenuous or perhaps worse still for a leader, disconnected.
For a Prime Minister, image and character perception is everything. Every step a leader takes has been well considered and he or she knows a slight error could seriously affect public perception and opinion ratings.
Twitter places notable people under a lens for inspection. It’s a curious and wonderful thing, this new access to that human side to those who were previously presented to the world with an airbrushed finish. It’s a new world, and with it there is a new order to be understood and respected…
Stephen Fry used this brilliantly, to raise awareness of mental health issues. And he exposed his personal mental health challenges in front of an enormous audience – that news travelled across Twitter, on to blogs, and then ended up in national papers and across broadcast. That’s quite some impact. But what can David Cameron do with this space, if he uses it effectively?
Can David Cameron, as leader of this country, present himself on Twitter in such a way as to inspire and encourage a nation, to fill us with confidence? Can he smash down the old order of formality, help to disassociate people from the sense that politicians are disconnected and dishonest?
An interesting debate broke earlier at 33 Digital – some people felt disappointed that celebrities they had previously liked had betrayed themselves with tweets that exposed their true selves. When it comes to a politician, that kind of exposure could cause serious problems. Especially during a time of political apathy, the populous vote may be easily swayed.
The alternative to diving in to Twitter is to take on a safe approach. Employ a team to manage that feed for you, keep it factual, and avoid the crowd where you can. Especially if they’re a bit bitey. And for now, at least, that seems to be what we have over @David_Cameron.
The tweets with twitpics are like micro press releases, the tone of voice is slightly off. I’ll be watching eagerly for the first question Mr Cameron asks his 94.6K following, and the first time he engages directly with a follower. For now I’m not convinced David Cameron knows how to make the most of this medium, or indeed has the inclination. And for me, having the inclination to, is essential for truly getting involved with the Twitter community.
So, there you have it folks – what do you think? Fodder for The Thick of It? Or savvy PR move?