Changes at Twitter are a perfect nudge for public sector communicators to re-think their digital comms strategy.
Since Elon Musk took over the platform the debate has centred around relaxing the moderation policies. More strident voices and abuse have been predicted.
But for me the real tipping point are proposals to charge from having the verified blue tick.
Many corporate accounts have this status and in an emergency it can help to cut through the noise as a trusted voice. In times of renewed austerity paying out what’s likely to be £200 a year isn’t going to be on top of many people’s lists.
So what to do?
A question of ownership
For me, ownership is largely irrelevant. As a press officer, I took calls on occasion from the News of the World. This title wasn’t one I would go out and buy but in that’s where the audience is that’s where it is.
It’s largely irrelevant that Elon Musk owns it.
A question of behaviour
What is more relevant is behaviour on the platform. A loosely moderated platform can expose staff to abuse strongly reinforces the need for a social media policy to set out what’s acceptable and what’s not. It’s the basic building block. All organisations who use social media need to have a set of house rules in place. If you are going to maintain a Twitter account – or any account – then such a policy is essential.
A question of trust
If the blue tick is priced out of the market then people will need to think about other ways to establish trust. A page on the website with links to corporate accounts is a straight forward way of doing this. So is using platforms other than Twitter.
A question of where people go in an emergency
In 2011, riots flared across England. Rumour and misinformation circulated across Twitter as the seminal Reading the Riots research was to show. Some Home Office voices argued that this meant the power to close the internet in a time of crisis. Those views lost out to the more sensible approach of embracing the platform and posting credible information in real time.
In other words, it was important to be on Twitter to establish a trusted voice. After the Manchester Arena attack in 2017, the first alert was posted by Greater Manchester Police within minutes. It did not give a detailed breakdown merely that they were aware of an incident. The move established the corporate account as a place for updates. It was an approach widely adopted.
I’m not wholly convinced that everyone now heads to Twitter in a crisis. Sure, reporters do and that’s maybe enough to keep this approach as part of the strategy. But for me, community Facebook groups and Nextdoor are also where the discussion of a local incident are likely to play out. WhatsApp too is where information spreads.
And that’s the point. There is no single place to communicate.
A question of review
Most social media was set up by 2010 and still bears the hallmarks of that landscape. A Twitter and a Facebook are the default platforms. So too is the request to ‘post this to Twitter’ in the mistaken belief that this will reach as if by magic the desired audience.
It is beyond question high time to review your audiences and review your channels. For younger people, TikTok is the platform of choice for news in the UK as well as the US. It needs to be based on science and data rather than habit. I keep meaning to set out how to run a social media review and one of these days I will.
We have become a society of fractured and splintered online communities and our approach to communicating needs to reflect that.
Your couple of hundred quid would be better spent not on maintaining a blue tick but elsewhere.