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The Twitter voice of the civil servant – finding a balance

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Engagement

I made a New Year’s resolution to be more active on Twitter – properly following and engaging with people (rather than just my geeky @bengoldacre crush) and not be a passive observer dipping in and out.

3 months in - what do I think?

As a civil servant I am struggling to promote policy or engage in policy debates using my own Twitter account. It feels weird actively promoting policy or activity that I might not agree with in a personal capacity – rather than just working behind the scenes to communicate government messages. This is my voice not a government channel, so how do I get the balance right?

As a civil servant I have to be impartial, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own convictions and beliefs. I act in a professional way as that’s what I’m paid to do but outside of work I may have different views. The dilemma is that if I tweet or blog, but am also talking about my role as a civil servant, can I actually voice my opinions.

The Civil Service code of conduct says;

Civil servants must not take part in any political or public activity which compromises, or might be seen to compromise, their impartial service to the Government of the day or any future government.

If I link to a news article I find interesting, but is critical of current government policy; or to a comedy photo – have I crossed the line if I have also been actively using social media as a communication tool in my civil servant role?

The drift between personal and professional is also really hard to figure out – should I only discuss work things and keep away from the personal? If I am using Twitter in a professional capacity and my followers are work connections, do they want to know personal information?  As a user I am sucked in to the posts about the little things – snow scores, train frustrations, kids’ pictures as well as the really interesting work ideas. So by default should I too be doing a bit of both to keep my follower numbers increasing – again what’s the balance?

At times it feels like I am trying to break into a clique – with Facebook you know that someone has accepted your friend request and by default is happy for you to comment on their posts. With Twitter I feel like a stalker commenting on a post of someone I work with and vaguely know – let alone someone I know only by reputation. It feels so much easier to comment on their blog post where they are more explicitly canvassing views.

Actively using Twitter these past few months, I have definitely felt more connected and knowledgeable about my working world and what my colleagues are up to in both their personal and professional lives. I have read even more blog posts and interesting articles which I probably would never have discovered at work or at home whilst juggling family.

So what next?

  • perhaps I just accept I am one of the 40% (I got this from a Metro article – so, yes Dr Goldacre I have no idea about the validity of the research) of users who are passive observers and not stress about building up huge number of followers
  • I won’t be promoting government policy in any personal capacity – just sharing good ideas that help professional development
  • I am thinking about creating an alter ego – my current Twitter account is @princessgwenny perhaps I will create @yesministergwenny to enter into policy debates
  • I will definitely keep all political views to myself – feels very ‘un-civil servant’ even hinting that I might have one

I would really love to hear your thoughts about this – how you juggle the professional and personal role on your account and especially you civil servants – how is your Twitter voice doing?

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  1. Comment by Marilyn Booth posted on

    Hi Gwenny,

    A great post.

    Interesting to be reminded on how this feels for a Twitter newbie. I remember when I started out, I was working in a specific policy team, and I made the decision that Twitter was (almost) purely for work purposes. I wonder if it's maybe easier to tweet about your own policies, your own area of expertise. It definitely feels more informed - like you're already part of the community, rather than knocking at the door trying to get in there, or trying to break into the clique as you put it. From that perspective, it now just sometimes feels more "authentic" for me to comment on digital issues, rather than tweeting about every single thing that the Dept is involved in, although I will tweet about stuff relevant to my old job, and projects that I'm directly involved in.

    I think @princessgwenny is a great name - I wouldn't want to see it disappearing!


    • Replies to Marilyn Booth>

      Comment by Roger Jones posted on

      Posting on Twitter is just like generating content for any publisher of media outlet. If its interesting people will engage. If its boring people won't. It also takes time to build a reasonable following (circa 6-12 months) so all these things add up.

  2. Comment by James posted on

    This was an interesting read. You're definitely right about the potential grey areas that exist when using twitter - I can only speak from an employee of a private business, but the issues are similar to the civil service.

    Twitter seems to be the one social media outlet where there is a real level playing field amongst personal account and brands. Merging the worlds of business, politics and daily life. This can therefore lead to announcements or views made by a member of a company/service being forever tarred to the company - as they're often seen - wrongly perhaps - as an "unofficial spokesperson".

    I suppose an organisation can try to protect themselves by requesting individuals include the "views are my own" get-out statement, but I don't think it is enough. Unfortunately, perhaps having separate accounts is the only sure fire way... it's a minefield really.

    Something that needs looked at and clarified by someone like the CPS.

  3. Comment by Chris posted on

    I would have to agree with James. I too am an employee of a private business and would go out of my way to make sure I had a separate account from the business. Better safe than sorry, as the old saying goes.


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