On the panel were:
- Tom Watson, MP
- Tim Montgomerie, Conservative Home
- Alberto Nardelli, Tweetminster
- David Babbs, 38 Degrees
- Jill Rutter, Programme Director, Institute for Government (Chair)
The Media and Government series is a collaborative partnership of events and new thinking from the Institute for Government and Fishburn Hedges. For updates on the Media and Government series and information about forthcoming events go to www.mediaandgovernment.co.uk or follow us on Twitter @instituteforgov and #mediaandgov.
Tom Watson, the MP with the greatest "Klout", Conservative Home's Tim Montgomerie, CEO of Twitter analysis site Tweetminster Alberto Nardelli and executive director of online campaigns site 38 degrees, David Babbs joined Fishburn Hedges and the Institute for Government to debate how Twitter can affect government policy.
A key consideration was the relationship between Twitter and power. Is Twitter really, as David Babbs said, "spin for the people", giving ordinary voters a voice in the policy process? Does it end the "monopoly of comment" in mainstream media? , Or does it just amplify the voices of politicians, newspapers and celebrities, and in doing so entrench existing power divisions?
Discussion also revolved around the way political parties are using Twitter. Tom Watson criticised all parties' use of Twitter as he thought they could all be more responsive. Tim Montgomerie said that the use of social media was more sophisticated in American politics because politicians need to do more small-scale fundraising, which makes them better at connecting with communities.
Alberto Nardelli mentioned that the number of MPs who tweet has grown exponentially. Just 4 tweeted in 2008, compared to 315 now.
Interesting discussions sparked by questions from the floor and from Twitter included the risks of tweeting as a public servant and how MPs and civil servants can get better at using Twitter as a source of information.
8 tips for tweeting to influence policy
- Genuine engagement with MPs beats hundreds of aggressive identical tweets
- Twitter has more users and is more representative of politics and age than we assume, but don't think that the Twittersphere is representative of the electorate at large
- Compelling content is what matters. You will build up a following if people are interested in what you have to say
- It's called social media for a reason - engage, don't broadcast
- Location-based tweeting is effective, creating a sense of community among people who have never met, who are then able to mobilise around issues
- Signpost followers to specific useful information
- Twitter is a great early warning system for developing stories - the challenge is working out which ones are important
- For politicians: don't underestimate the intelligence of your followers - they may not believe you're the world's number one X Factor fan!