Politicians: Here’s How To Behave On Twitter

High-profile politicians don’t seem to get it. They’re the most unfortunate of all celebrities: universally despised, rarely celebrated, no public interest in personal affairs (unless they’re really scandalous). And yet these state-representing folk appear quite comfortable broadcasting their inner-most hopes, dreams and fears to the faceless public through their nearest social media platform. Drastic consequences inevitably ensue. This article is for them: a guide to maintaining a good Twitter account for politicians.

The growth of smartphones is making it increasingly easy for politicians to post. Deep Twitter integration in Series A mobile operating systems – like BlackBerry 10, Ubuntu and so on – will only make it easier for politicians to tweet. Here are some simple guidelines politicians should follow when tweeting from their smartphone or laptop:

1. If you wouldn’t quote it to a newspaper, you shouldn’t tweet it

“I’m not on Twitter. I think that… that politicians should have to think about what we say and the trouble of Twitter is the instantness of it…”
– David Cameron, UK Prime Minister

Weight gain issues? Not for Twitter. Spare the tweeting masses. It is difficult to fix the damage done by a random tweet. Remember, your followers are not your friends – they’re onlookers, and some of them revel in taking your words and spinning them out of context.

2. Nobody cares how many followers you have: making them up looks terrible

“An average of 12 percent of Australian politicians’ followers are fake, 25 percent are inactive and 63 percent active.”
– The Age

I have never heard anyone argue that a politician should be heeded on account of the number of Twitter followers they’ve attracted. Apparently this news is to reach some of you, yet: The Age reports that the actual Twitter follower count for the accounts of Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, and Kevin Rudd is around 40 percent fabricated. It is better to devote your PR team’s time to dealing with other things than trying to inflate your follower count.

3. Twitter is not a litmus test of popularity

“Too many twits make a twat.”
– David Cameron, UK Prime Minister (current Twitter followers: 372,147)

A recent article in The Conversation points out that your Twitter follower count has very little to do with your popularity. Political position, foreign reach, and incumbency are far more influential in determining how many of the Twitterati you attract. Not convinced? Both former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his successor Julia Gillard have attracted substantially more followers than their respective political opponents, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, but opinion polling suggests that Abbott and crew are vastly more popular. Comparing Twitter followers might give an insight into how interesting you are to the public, but it tells you nothing about how many people like you.

As much as this might seem like common sense to anybody capable of spelling ‘computer literacy’, we’re unlikely to see the end of Twitter-fuelled political gaffes any time soon – so we’ll have plenty to laugh at for the next few years.