“I always say it won’t win elections but it might cost you one,” he explains. “The rule is do not say anything you would not want to see printed on the front page of the Birmingham Mail.”
He highlights the ability to hold a conversation as a benefit of Twitter over blogs.
There are some cautious politicians who briefly highlight what they are doing or where they are going. The majority fall into this second category and Coun O’Shea argues this is useful to show interested constituents how busy you are and what issues you are dealing with.
But, when national politicians do this, you get the impression it is a heavily risk-averse staffer editing it, ending up with banal messages like “Visiting local library today. Books are very good for you”.
Many Twitter followers want to see a little more than this, they want some opinion and personality (although they probably do not need to know what you have for breakfast every day). There are those who engage in discussions and share opinions – sometimes posting on a variety of topics – Philip Parkin (Cons, Sutton Trinity), Tim Evans (Lab, Hodge Hill) and Waseem Zaffer (Lab, Lozells and East Handsworth) spring to mind.
Where it comes into its own is in the coverage of full council meetings and elections with up-to-the-minute coverage and commentary all in one place. Birmingham’s overnight election results have even trended – they were, at some horrendous hour of the morning, among the top ten things being looked at by UK twitter users.
On the downside there have also been some less savoury, wince-inducing, exchanges with politicians throwing grenades at each other, among them the nasty exchanges between a journalist and “shock jock” Jon Gaunt which seemed to overshadow the Coventry mayoral campaign – at least for those following it on Twitter.
And Birmingham’s mayoral referendum highlights the limits of social media, despite a very slick “yes” campaign and an incredible amount of online debate, there was little, if any, noticeable effect on the overall turnout. It appears that Twitter is all risk and little reward.
A by no means comprehensive selection of tweeting councillors and ex-councillors:
@theiancruise, @mullaney3, @1oldcodger,
@CllrJohnCotton , @james_bird_,