Thursday, February 12, 2009

Journalists leaping onto Twitter - should government?

The micro-blogging platform Twitter was the breakthrough social media tool for journalists in 2008. It became a pipeline for breaking news for both professional reporters and citizen journalists, with the massacre in Mumbai, the Hudson River plane crash and Obama's inauguration highlighting its effectiveness as a source of live, user-generated online content.
The statement above, from a recent article published in MediaShift, How Journalism Students Used Twitter to Report on Australian Elections, highlights how rapidly Twitter has become a relevant and important tool for media and citizens to tell stories and share news.

The story provides a good case study on how Twitter can be used by journalists (albeit from an educational standpoint) and leaves me with one main question.

If Twitter is increasingly important as a tool for news dissemination and citizen engagement, should government be making a solid commitment to the platform?

We do have government 'twitterers' in Australia already. On the political level Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd's office and the Greens are all twittering.

At a Department/Agency level, the project twitters, as does Mosman council and QLD government's SharemyStory.

It has also been used to share information during the Victorian bushfires by CFA - which I avidly followed during a trip back from Sydney where Twitter on my phone was my only media option.

However these initial toes dipped into Twitter pale alongside the uses the US and UK are now putting Twitter to in government circles.

So how should government determine if it should make greater use of Twitter (and in what ways?

I'm a fan of the hands-on approach. I recommend that you set yourself up with a Twitter account, find a few interesting people from one of the many top twitterers lists out there, then listen to them using the service.

Don't simply use it once then leave, that's like turning on a TV for five minutes, only catching ads and walking away with the impression that all television is advertising. Instead use it for several weeks, or even several months, particularly during a major news event. You will gain an appreciation for the benefits and downsides of Twitter - without having to necessarily start 'twittering' yourself.

What will it cost you? A bit of time and in return you'll be able to properly assess the value of the system and become the strategic expert on the topic for your agency.

Surely that's worth the investment of a few hours.

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