A bag-carrier's guide to surviving Twitter

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 2 March 2012 in Diary
Twitter can be a minefield for the politically active aide. Here's Martin Shapland's guide to steering your way safely through it

Twitter. A realm of infinite possibility, where MPs can engage with their adoring public, researchers can catch up on who is punching who in Strangers' and journalists can look on benevolently. Hang on, something there's not quite right.

In fact, too many tweets make easy copy for bored hacks. MPs don’t have an adoring public and researchers don’t leave the pub. Twitter can be a powerful communication asset but trying to navigate the pitfalls is getting more and more difficult these days. Here are a few handy pointers to make the most of your tweeting experience.

  1. Watch what you tweet. Ask yourself if you are comfortable with your tweet being on the front page of the Daily Mail or discussed on the Today programme before you hit return.
  2. Moderate your controversy. Politicos follow politicos for gossip and information - try to be interesting and drop nuggets of information, but don't include anything important, confidential or personally embarrassing. If you mistake a briefing for a press release, apply liberal application of the delete button. Also use for DMs gone wrong - no one likes a Huhne.
  3. Avoid spelling mistakes. Someone will come along shortly to mock you for misspelling ‘blockbusters’ or hunt, punt and bunt if you don’t.
  4. Remember that the reason 300 journalists are following your boss is not because they are hungry for his or her fascinating press release on a local bike hire scheme but because they’re waiting for them to get drunk and tweet something stupid. Ban your boss from getting drunk.
  5. If said 300 journalists are following you, avoid drunk tweeting - you'll end up with much more public hangovers than you get from drunk texting. If you are like me, accept the inevitability of one of your drunken tweets ending up in the Evening Standard sooner or later and attempt to make friends with our friends in the lobby. That can be useful if you want help when you’ve got a big story or avoiding becoming a big story.
  6. Avoid ‘fraping’: both the practice and the word. Speak to Tom Watson’s intern for the reasons why (she’s in the stocks outside Norman Shaw South). Generally speaking getting hold of your boss's account and saying he’s defecting to UKIP followed by ‘lol frape’ could have ramifications for your career and draw the rightful fury of feminists everywhere.
  7. Bear in mind that someone, somewhere, is compiling a big brown folder of your mishaps in order to destroy you at a later date. You may safely assume they have trouble pulling at parties, but remember there are members of a party or newspaper hostile to your personal interests.
  8. Keep the swearing and plotting to a minimum. Downfall parodies, jokes about the Queen and France, if funny, are tolerable but not encouraged. Learn from the Twitter storms that erupted around Diane Abbott's 'divide and rule' comment and Baroness Tonge's anti-Israel comments. Avoid sexist jokes, dwarf jokes, Mr Speaker jokes. If you use these elsewhere you’re generally a bad person anyway.
  9. If you are planning on having a sense of humour ensure you work for someone with a sense of humour. If you work for someone who spoke loudly about deposing Gordon Brown, they will press release just how fired you are should Paul Waugh have a slow news day and choose to pick up on one of your tweets.
  10. Develop a thick skin. Twitter is full of angry shouty people who will angrily shout at you if you are one or more of the following: male, female, Labour, Liberal, Tory, in politics, human. Allow people to take offence and ignore the ranty. If necessary, locate the ‘block’ button and press it, firmly.  
  11. If you do fall foul of the press and find yourself in the middle of a Twitter storm you have two options: either stand your ground or row back. If apologising, apologise and do so swiftly. Do not apologise for causing offence. If standing your ground ensure your joke is funny or your statement accurate and issue a further statement. Do not do a Matt Zarb and apologise for a funny joke.
  12. Once you have issued a statement or heartfelt apology, turn off Twitter until the next storm arrives at 1pm sharp when a bored intern hacks the No 10 Twitter page and announces that the government is resigning so The Smiths can reform.

Twitter is a great place to connect, get the latest gossip and debate. Use these handy tips and you will avoid being taken out back and shot which, incidentally, is something you should probably avoid saying as well.

Tags: Twitter

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