I am one of Grant Shapps’ 50,000 plus followers, the youthful looking Housing and Local Government Minister, who marked his landmark figure by writing the definitive guide on to engage with an MP via Twitter.
I knew Grant back in 2005 when he was a parliamentary candidate for Welwyn Hatfield and I was the Conservative Party’s Eastern Region press officer during the general election campaign. His use of social media for political engagement, using webcams to hold online surgeries at a time when few people had heard of them, stands out in my mind.
I am sure it won’t be long before Grant doubles his number of followers, but I only hope he isn’t one of those annoying parliamentarians who fidgets on his iPhone/Blackberry throughout PMQs which I find intensely irritating.
Here are Grant’s valuable tips:
9 ways for Tweeting MPs to engage with their Followers
This weekend marked my 50,000th Twitter follower. So to honour them all, I present my random thoughts about how MPs (and other politicians for that matter) can better engage with their voters, critics and followers alike on Twitter.
I should immediately point out that I donâ€™t get this right all the time. And Iâ€™m definitely no suggesting that Twitter can or should be a constant 24/7 conversation with your Followers. That just wouldnâ€™t be practical. But I do think there are specific approaches you can use to engage your Followers in a mutually beneficial way. So, here are Â 9 of themâ€¦
1. Hold your own â€œTwitterthonâ€
Every now and then Iâ€™ll make a series of posts in quick succession about a specific issue or policy area. Iâ€™ll intersperse these by responding to people who are commenting on my posts as I go along. In the process you can quickly find that youâ€™ve engaged an audience of several thousand posters very quickly. The whole thing takes 10 to 15 minutes. Itâ€™s what I call an impromptu Twitterthon and my advice is to keep them pretty much ad hoc. If you take the trouble to advertise the â€˜eventâ€™ in advance then youâ€™re sure to attractÂ organised resistance or â€œTwitter trollsâ€.
2. Offer exclusive content released only on Twitter
One great thing about Twitter is that you can use it to release information thatâ€™s not available elsewhere. An inside scoop or late breaking development in your constituency or policy area. And for some reason journalists seem to love reporting that such and such used their Twitter feed to let followers know XYZ piece of news. Depending on the size of your current following, you may of course need to â€˜tip offâ€™ an interested journalist to actually notice your Tweet in the first place.
3. Build expectation and excitement
Iâ€™ve also found that Twitter can be a great way of creating a buzz around a particular activity. This past weekend I knew that Iâ€™d be announcing the 12 winningÂ Portas Pilot High Street bids. Given that 371 Towns had applied I knew that folks would be anxiously awaiting news. And whilst I knew that the traditional media would cover the results, none of them were likely to flag up precisely when to expect them. I was able to turn to Twitter and using just one or two Tweets ensure that via reTweets everyone who might want to know could find out about the anticipated announcements. It created a mini online buzz.
4. Aim for reTweets
reTweets, as mentioned above, are in fact an excellent measure of your online â€˜reachâ€™. When you write something truly interesting, others will reTweet it for you. This means that anyone watching their timeline will see what youâ€™ve written. Plus of course their followers might decide to follow you to be closer to the source of the information.
If you are logged into Twitter, going toÂ https://Twitter.com/reTweeted_of_mineÂ will show you Interactions including reTweets. However many phone apps, including the outstanding TweetCasterÂ makes seeing reTweets, conversations and much more easy to follow.
5. Tweet from your mobile most of the time
A matter of personal preference perhaps, but itâ€™s worth noting that Â ma ny of the really goodTweeting apps likeÂ TweetCasterÂ are designed for mobile platforms. Thereâ€™s definitely acorrelation between someoneâ€™s propensity to Tweet and use of a mobile platform to do so.Apart from anything else, Tweeting can usefully be carried out when you have a sparemoment travelling from A to B. So mobile devices are not only capable of better Twitter apps, but tend to focus your mind on Tweeting more actively and that of course increases the likelihood of interaction with your followers too.
6.Use Bookmarks when Tweeting
If youâ€™re about to do go on, say,the BBC News Channel, then youâ€™ll obviously want to include their @name or #hashtag -in this case thatâ€™s @BBCNewsor #BBCNews. But when you think about this from the Twitter user perspective this isnâ€™t all that helpful. A Tweetwhich actually provides the live link is far more likely to create engagement too. If youâ€™re Tweeting from your phone then keep a list of Bookmarks for all the live programmes and then link to this at the end of your Tweet.
Write it up like thisâ€¦
Using this kind of link means that youâ€™ll drive viewers to your performance, get instant feedback, and have the chance to further interact with your Twitter followers.
In addition youâ€™ll see that thereâ€™s nothing particularly memorable about that BBC Live News feed web address above, which is why you want to have all of these Bookmarked on your mobile in advance to aid easy Tweeting.
Â 7. Keep it local
Never forget where youâ€™re from and who you represent. Itâ€™s all too easy to get carried away in the Westminster Village Tweeting about the 2ndÂ Reading of the Widget Protection Bill, but donâ€™t forget, all politics is local. Actually Iâ€™ve found that my followers donâ€™t object one bit to my posting frequent constituency updates. A hunch reinforced by at least one follower in thisÂ New StatesmanÂ article.
@AljwhiteÂ I find myself getting increasingly excited as I wait for his next Tweet. Exactly how frivolous will it be? And then it comes, and his 40,000 followers learn he’s “On way to Partnership Accreditation for Landlords launch at University ofÂ Hertfordshire,” and you think: brilliant. Who cares about that? Obviously I do, because I’m slightly obsessed, but what about everyone else? I suppose it’s like Political Tweeting following Joey Barton or Jedward: never mind if you find his updates boring; he clearly doesn’t. You end up being buoyed along by the enthusiasm.
8. Surprise them by being human!
Letâ€™s be blunt. Lot of folk donâ€™t think politicians live on the same planet. They think we think differently, eat different food, breath different airâ€¦ and that you certainly wouldnâ€™t be seen dead actually Tweeting in person. Right? Well, I think itâ€™s your job to prove them wrong! Since you can probably only bust one at a time, I suggest you start by proving youÂ carry out all your own Tweets. But donâ€™t stop there take it one stage further by replying to some Tweet questions or even the occasional accusation.When you do screw up on Twitter â€“ easily done with auto-correction on a small keyboard â€“ then own up to it. In fact you can even use your â€˜misspeaksâ€™ and â€˜misspells â€™to your advantage by demonstrating thatâ€¦ well, youâ€™re only human.
9. When to Reply, Reply WITH Comment or occasionally Direct Message instead
Twitter can be a confusing place. Who the author of a comment was and who is reTweetin Â it is an obvious place for mix ups. When you do hit ReplyÂ itâ€™s quite likely that your followers havenâ€™t read the full thread and what youâ€™re saying is often
therefore out of context. For this reason I usually prefer to Reply WITH Comment. This means that the original post isrepeated (much like areTweetÂ ), but that you can then add your own comment on to theend. This keeps the conversation in context and makes it much easier for others to follow the thread. Of course the 140 character limit is even more challenging, but itâ€™s amazing what you can squeeze in. I rarely use the Direct Message feature because itâ€™s typically full of spam posts. There was, however, one occasion when it definitely would have been a better bet for my wife. On my way to the TV studios I once Tweeted, â€œOff to discuss our latest policy on #BBCNewsChannelâ€.Â Walking back to Parliament afterwards. I fired up Twitter and was mortified by a timeline response by new-to-Twitter Mrs Shapps. Â It read, â€œ Love Twitter. Now we donâ€™t Â needÂ to actually speak during the day. Anyway, hurry home because I have a BIG surprise for you!â€
Now this was one occasion when we definitely did need to speak â€“ and quite urgently!
â€œBelinda, do you know you just posted your â€˜hurry on home for a BIG surpriseâ€™ message to the world?â€
â€œWhat? Oh no! I thought I was replying to YOU.â€Â And she was. Plus everyone else on Twitter. The point is that the first decision to make about interacting is whether you need to Reply, Reply All, Reply with Comment or reply using a Direct Message (which might have been better on that particular occasion.)