really? honestly?

Why Andrew Stott shouldn’t just blindly follow everyone in return

A few inevitable comments are buzzing out there on @dirdigeng. As with any high-profile newcomer to the twitterverse, the most obvious being: “but why aren’t they following anyone?” Which is usually shorthand for: “why aren’t they following me?”

So here’s Andrew – one of the most experienced government/change/technology experts there is. Someone who not only has real technology heavy-lifting experience, but has been brave enough to challenge orthodoxy in trying to make something real out of this ‘Transformational Government’ concept. Brave enough to stand personally at the centre of massive re-engineering of thousands of unnecessary government websites. Brave enough to take on this new role.

This point about technology heavy-lifting is quite important. There are massive differences of scale between a here-today-gone-tomorrow social media enterprise set up in someone’s back bedroom using a bit of WordPress and an old server nobody else wanted, and a service that has to be designed to serve hundreds of thousands of people, without fail, for perhaps ten years. A period of time over which technology change will certainly test the relevance of any solution that seemed good to start with. This is not to say that great and small government services should always inhabit separate worlds – they do have to be brought together more closely, with more agility, and flexibility around monolithic technology contracts – and this could well be a useful priority for DirDigEng to work on.

Andrew gets this. Look at what is still seen as one of the most transformed services, using online delivery to stop us all queuing in the Post Office with bags of paper to get our cars taxed. Andrew was right at the heart of making that happen.

The greater initial challenge will be engaging with networks and communities that really get digital engagement. One of these, but only one, being the twitterverse. And so to the exam question – who to follow? Let’s look at the options:

1. No one. No. Just looks too weird. Forget that.

2. The boss, in terms of leadership of government’s agenda in this area: @tom_watson?

3. Those that think they should be followed (and say so)?

4. An inner cabal of thirty or so erudite figures?

5. The few hundred most active voices on digital engagement and open government around the world?

6. Everyone who follows?

All of these are possible models, and it’s very much a matter of personal taste, but two I’d advise against in particular are 4 and 6. 4 will reinforce a sense of digital dis-engagement in those who feel it’s all about the usual crowd cosily talking to each other; 6 will be a meaningless exercise as Andrew’s stream will become unintelligible. The ‘blessing’ of getting a follow from DirDigEng will drive all sorts of strange behaviours and attitudes.

Eventually, 5 might emerge organically, but give it time. You have to go through 4 first, which is a risky stage.

So 2 is the choice now, and it’s not a bad one. It’s largely symbolic, but symbols are ok.

Because the real exam question (and one so many twitterers miss) is not: “Who should I follow?” It’s “How should I listen?”, closely followed by “How should I interact?”

And here – as I’ve explained before here, Twitter is built for the listening. It’s not all about the following. So Andrew will no doubt be browsing, reading, dipping and filtering through finely tuned searches – and on finding relevance, interacting through ‘@’ messaging, #tagging, retweeting and so on, just like the rest of us. If he’s any sense. Which he has.

I will now log on to Twitter to find that he’s followed everyone back first thing this morning… Life’s like that.


Filed under: Uncategorized

5 Responses

  1. Peter Bowyer says:

    You seem to be assuming that @dirdigeng is Andrew personally, rather than Andrew’s office. The answer to the question would presumably be different if this isn’t a valid assertion.

  2. darenbbc says:

    It’s “How should I listen?”, closely followed by “How should I interact?”

    I agree with Paul, well said… When I’m new somewhere I listen intensely to as many as I can initially. After a while I select who gets attention after some experience of the conversations and importantly actions.

    Nothing is set in stone, my follow, not follow approach can always be changed, but for me, I listen to everyone for myself to begin with.

  3. Peter Bowyer says:

    Another response from me, having given this some more thought.

    The real question isn’t about how the operator(s) of the @dirdigeng twitter account run that account. It’s about how Andrew and his office go about their task. The twitter account, whilst currently in the spotlight, is just one tool in their bag. It’s one that they need to use effectively, just like other gov.uk bodies have to. But too much focus on how many folk they follow (which has no bearing on what tweets they actually see/read anyway) is over-sweating the small stuff.

  4. lexij says:

    I’ve helped manage a Twitter account with over 1000 followers. It’s true that #6 reduces your feed to an impenetrable wall of constant noise but with the right tools (I’m thinking TweetDeck) actually listening to the right people (while avoiding the problem of #3) becomes easier.

  5. alex says:

    While you may consider it a useful way to spend taxpayers money in engaging IBM and countless others on the on-line tax disc work, there is an alternative view that it is a complete waste of time and our money.

    Why not ask the insurance comapnies to do it ? Tesco introduced on-line insurance well before DVLA, and are probably 10% of the cost.

    The jury is out on the choice. It would be helpful to see the short-list for Chief Twittercrat as there may only have been one candidate

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