Daily Archives: June 9, 2010

Why is Twitter hiring a government liaison? Thoughts from @SG and more. [#gov20]

Twitter goes to Washington

Twitter goes to Washington?

A job posting for a government liaison has ignited plenty of controversy in the blogosphere, Twittersphere, and, one might imagine, in the halls of Twitter HQ out in San Francisco.

The Department of Human Services’ new media guru, Andrew P. Wilson, offered up a thoughtful “Top 10 Requests for the New Government Liaison at Twitter.” Adriel Hampton, a former Congressional candidate and a leading voice in the government 2.0 community, wondered if Twitter could reimagine democracy.

And earlier today, Mark Drapeau, the director for innovative engagement at Microsoft, considered whether government 2.0 had passed Twitter by.

I don’t disagree with Mark that it would be useful for Twitter’s staff to be more of a part of the Gov 2.0 community, as Jack Dorsey has at times been, but I was surprised to read Drapeau write that “the help is really not needed.”

Given how lawmakers are tweeting, with many mistakes, lack of engagement or misunderstanding of conventions, some guidance would seem to be of use. More to the point, the fact that they’re not tweeting at all is no doubt of interest to Twitter HQ.

After all, for every Claire McCaskill or Darrell Issa, there are a dozen Congressmen and women who aren’t using the service well – or at all. Many others have staff do it for them. Focusing on the role of Facebook’s Adam Conner here on Capitol Hill is spot on; hiring someone who understands the lingo, conventions and effective communications strategy for this role would be useful for both government and Twitter itself.

I found Drapeau’s selection of Kawasaki as a model to be particularly surprising, given the polarizing effect his use of Twitter has had, particularly with respect to “ghost tweeting.” Using Twitter authentically and personally is precisely what has been effective for politicians like Cory Booker. The blowback that came from people learning @BarackObama wasn’t tweeting himself should be instructive.

My own comments aside, Twitter’s VP of communications, Sean Garrett (@SG), shared more insight on Drapeau’s post into the microblogging juggernaut’s thinking in posting the job opening. I reproduce his comment below:

I’m Twitter’s head of communications and I have spent very little time ivory towers in my career. You?

Before Twitter much of my career was devoted to building bridges between the technology community and the policy world. Did things like helping start TechNet in 1997 and worked with them for a couple years to creating the first technology-policy focused communications consultancy and serving as a partner there for 6 years. This is all to say that I have a pretty decent view how policymakers and political types view and use technologies, tech policy issues and where gaps remain.

We’ve done a lot of research and talked to a lot of people in Washington (including members of Congress and staffers, administration officials, think tank folks, etc) and elsewhere about what would be a good first step for us as we build a policy presence. That step is this position.

I also think it is important to recognize that when you say that this is a type of position that should have been filled one or two years ago that in January of 2009, we had 22 employees. As recently as last October, we had 70 employees. We just crossed the 200 barrier and now have the ability to do things proactively as opposed simply fight to keep the service up and do the basics everyday.

Do you think that Twitter should have made employee number 23 a DC-focused position or a network engineer?

Finally, and most constructively, thanks to the great work of the Gov 2.0 crowd that you mention, this hire won’t have to start work on day one with a blank slate. There’s a whole community that he or she could tap into to become more effective faster. They can attend the right events and get involved in the existing conversation that promises exciting transformation.

At the same time and in just one example, there are real live members of Congress who at this very moment are wrestling with whether to open a Twitter account and, if so, how to get the most out of it. Having someone being able to walk over to their office and sit down with their team is going to be more helpful than telling them to just follow Guy Kawasaki or absorb the collective wisdom of the “countless consultants working inside the Beltway” through osmosis.

As the relationship of lawmakers, citizens and technology companies evolves, one thing is clear: there will continue to be plenty of discussion about how social media disrupts the playing field here in Washington and beyond.

UPDATE: Steve Lunceford of GovTwit posted an interview with Sean Garrett this morning that provides more detail on Twitter’s search for a government liaison. It’s worth reading the entire post but two answers will be of particular interest to the government 2.0 community:

Q: Is this U.S Federal-focused only, given that you’re hiring in Washington, D.C.?

@SG: Twitter is not just interested in government from a U.S. federal standpoint, but [also] outside the Beltway in states and localities. We’re obviously global as well, and this new role will look not only to U.S., but also how other governments use or don’t use Twitter; how campaigns work/don’t work and how they translate from one level to another.

What need is Twitter trying to fill here?

@SG: We believe Twitter will be better off having a direct dialogue with public officials who use our service. And I would say that yes, the “Twitter 101″ conversations are still important. Many in D.C. are eager to engage on Twitter and we want to help them maximize this experience. And, there are some who don’t understand how to use it or where the value is. We’d like to change this where we can. Having a point person that can help verify government IDs, someone that can be down the street to meet with officials in their office, or serve as an overall point person for government outside the Beltway is the initial goal here.


Filed under social media, technology, Twitter