Twitter etiquette for corporates

It’s been amazing to watch news of Downing Street’s new Twitter account spreading round the planet. Reaction on blogs and Twitter itself has been a combination of ‘awesome!’, ‘boring!’ and ‘validates Twitter as a proper comms channel’.
But it poses an interesting question. Should a corporate channel like /downingstreet be following other people, or is it purely a one-way service? So far, I can’t decide.
Let’s be realistic: Gordon Brown doesn’t want to know what your cat had for breakfast, and deep down, you all know that. But it’s the done thing on Twitter: everyone follows everyone else. It might make people feel loved, if they see their picture embedded into the No10 page’s sidebar. It doesn’t take much effort to add people, and hey – nobody’s forcing you to read it.
Looking at it coldly then, I can’t help feeling it’s a pointless token gesture. But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – look at what’s happening across the Atlantic. Barack Obama has 19,000 followers and almost the same number of ‘following’ – each of whom gets to see their picture on his profile. Hillary Clinton takes the ‘follow no-one’ approach, and has a mere 2,400 followers. And which campaign gets plaudits for its voter engagement?
Maybe that’s the point. Twitter represents a pretty deep level of ‘buy in’ to a person or a thing, much deeper than a blog subscription or email signup. You’re asking to know the minutiae on a real-time basis. By definition, it’s a more personal, touchy-feely environment. Maybe it’s the touchy-feely criteria which should matter most.
What do the rest of you think?

9 thoughts on “Twitter etiquette for corporates”

  1. Its good to see Number 10 on twitter – and a great idea.
    If the channel becomes two way, and is used for constructive dialogue it can only be a good thing. I’d like to see something similar for but resourcing something like this will always be an issue.
    I just had an email confirming they are following me – is this the start of a conversation?

  2. seems like they are just hitching a ride on the latest bus, and nothing wrong with that
    whether they get tweeted by iraq or the taleban remains to be seen

  3. If you (DowningStreet) subscribe to the RSS feed of the people who are following you then you can analyse the feed to find out what sort of things they are discussing and responding to. That in turn can influence what you talk about on Twitter. Not exactly conversation, but it is listening and therefore two way.

  4. I’d absolutely encourage any bot or corporate account to in turn “follow” all of its followers. Sure, it’s a token gesture much of the time, but it is a big one. What makes Twitter great is the sense that people are listening, the sense that people care enough about what you are saying to follow you. On the bot/corporate end, its not like anyone ever has to even check the tweets, but it’s just a nice gesture.

  5. Hmmm – must admit I’m not entirely convinced by Twitter. The fact that the god-awful G Brown is now using it isn’t exactly a recommendation so far as I’m concerned.
    The people I’m following on Twitter seem to think I’m interested in what they are doing minute-by-minute (waiting for train, sitting on train, meeting people, getting on another train, feeling tired, having problems with laptop tc. etc.). G Brown seems to think I’m interested in reading press releases about his meetings with Sarky. WTF?
    I’m obviously missing the point big time here – twitterings seem to be like Facebook status updates, but much worse. Can someone tell me where I’m going wrong?

  6. To illustrate the above here are three twitters, posted within 3 hours of each other by a reasonably well known tech correspondent. They are not untypical. Life – at least for those of us who don’t believe it’s everlasting – is just too short, isn’t it? As I say, I’m sure I’ve missed the point.
    xxxxx time to check out of dull hotel and wander down the hill to Tyneside Cinema for the day.. 10:00 AM March 26, 2008
    xxxxx Hotel breakfast – substantial but never satisfactory. More coffee may help… 08:44 AM March 26, 2008
    xxxxx Up and about on a grey gateshead morning. Back to the cinema for more interviews later … 07:18 AM March 26, 2008

  7. The well-known tech journos are the ones to avoid. They use it as a loudhailer for their daily minutiae. Much better to hook up with people you know or share interests with, then use it when you want to share something or ask for something.

  8. Sounds like good advice Ian, and I guess that there are some people out there who, strange though it may seem to the vast majority of us, care about what the No 10 press office have to tell us.
    Re. the tech journo in question, I like his articles and he has good things to say on a podcast I listen to from time to time. But if I’d come across his twitter feed before either of those I’d have avoided him like the plague. Presumably it’s intended for his friends and relatives, but I picked it up via a public link and was kind of hoping that I’d learn about vaguely interesting tech stuff, rather than his gloomy breakfast related experiences.

  9. Or maybe he sees it as a more personal channel than his tech journalism. Follow for a while, then block them if they bore you. Ahhh, the fickle nature of online friendships.

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