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Twitter 101: How to ease your way into social media

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Twitter logoIt’s time we had a talk about Twitter. The dark art, that wittering, inane flood of banality; that jabbering, unreliable and dangerous noise.

How many see a hashtag and that innocent-looking little bird and think: “For what possible reason would I use that?!”

Well, dear reader, if that’s how you view Twitter, I challenge you to think again. Re-visit that account you started last year and forgot about and take Twitter under your wing.

My own ‘Twit-epiphany’ came in 2011, watching a BBC documentary on how journalists at the New York Times had adopted Twitter. At that point, I had a personal account, though I never really saw a clear work value in it. But now, inspired, a new, professional me was born on Twitter and, unequivocally, I’m better for it.

A "river of data rushing past" - that's how New York Times writer David Carr (@Carr2n) describes Twitter. For me it's a personalised, real-time news feed, which I’ve curated with updates from my contacts – far slicker and with an added option to participate. Twitter is now my online entry point, not my bookmarked sites.

Twitter tips

“OK, Dan, I’m sold.” Great! So why are you joining? If you have zero intention of engaging, hidden behind a pseudonym, no profile or picture, even with a locked account, it’s kind of contrary to the reasons for joining social media.

It may be that Twitter isn’t for you or you’re just not interested. In any case, I’d recommend joining your internal social media to learn the value of these platforms. If not Twitter, try Yammer my friends!

But for those who are intending to participate here are my tips.


Read and understand the electronic media policy and, more pertinently, the Civil Service Code. Be exactly as you are at work and you’ll be fine. Remember, this is social media – rude, boorish, disrespectful behaviour is frowned upon, but you’re not a robot. Your day at work is a mixture of conversation and interaction. If you manage it without being escorted off the premises, you’ll likely have no problems on Twitter.


Have a conversation with your manager and colleagues about why you have an account, and what you get from it. Refer to it during your appraisals. After all Twitter is a great way to see what our customers, the public, are saying.


If we’re advocating a professional account, you need a profile. That means a picture of you, not a logo or the egg avatar that Twitter starts you with. No-one talks to eggs! It also means a proper description: what you do, where you do it and what you’re into. I recommend not having a job role as your handle – you’re a person not a title. And nothing is more authentic than your own ‘voice’, so don’t hand your account to an aide or press team. Twitter is unforgiving to people who aren’t genuine.


Spend some time following people to learn the ropes. If social media is a foreign country to you, prepare for it as you would for a holiday. Learn a few phrases, understand the culture and develop a feel for how to engage with the locals. You’ll have a far more enjoyable visit. Check out how staff in the NHS, for example, are supporting each other at #NHSSM


Remember, the sheer act of joining a worldwide public forum means you expect to interact. If you don’t, you invariably attract more problems. If you do attract a negative comment, pause. A sense of humour helps. You’re not obliged to reply, but pick your ‘battles’. Fix in your mind why you joined, how the rest of the world perceives you and the personal vs professional account mindset you entered with. Don’t go on Twitter to announce, go on there to share, debate and illuminate.


Find your colleagues and follow them. Magically, they’ll follow you back. Take a hashtag that is relevant to your role. At a conference, track the conversations on there, tweet the speaker. A simple question or compliment to someone will be returned in kind – remember, people are on Twitter because they want to talk. It’s not necessary to acknowledge every re-tweet, but etiquette is important. Again, see how people you respect or find interesting do this.


Add your handle to your outgoing signature, to your business cards. Before or after you meet someone, find them on Twitter and follow them. When they see that, they’ll probably do the same. This kind of behaviour is what makes Twitter so effective in establishing contacts. Researching a topic? Find the leading influencers, start a conversation – far quicker than asking for an email address.

Create a list, share it. If you want a quick survey or straw poll send it to some folks on Twitter and ask them to share. How would a staff survey be if we were all allowed to pull it apart and put it back together?

Join the conversation

I’m surprised more of my colleagues aren’t on Twitter. It’s free, its real time, it connects like no other medium and has such potential for crowdsourced initiatives. It is the only tool that can tell you what people are talking about each day.

If the digital age is the age of the customer, Twitter is the perfect way to listen to them. If we’re all ambassadors for our organisations and share a public service ethos, no organisation prepared to face the world could make a clearer statement than engaging with it.

We have some incredible people on Twitter and some rich resources. Do them and yourself a favour, follow them, celebrate them and join a conversation. Oh, and come say hi to me!

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  1. Comment by Huw Pritchard posted on

    Of course you don't have to talk on Twitter - you can just listen to what your customers and others in your field are saying.

    I'm interested in the blurring of lines between work-related and non-work related posts. Myself, I post work and non-work stuff on @huwpritch It's an opportunity to post nice things about my organisation and be a brand ambassador. As we all know, personal recommendation is the best recommendation

  2. Comment by Pauline posted on

    Useful if you have some experience. For those who have none there are useful tips available when signing up to twitter, including a jargon buster and how to strt using it. I have a personal twitter account that I occasionally tweet or retweet from. I also have and use a Yammer account in work. The benefits in using them are mainly about engaginging with people to promote or seek views or make new useful contacts. There are definite limitations in terms of what you post language/details etc. as you do not want your conduct to be in breach of the CS Code and face any form of disciplinary action, however so long as you apply the same common sense to its use as you do when dealing with people face to face, on the phone, by email, be respectful and courteous and think about what how you come across then you should be ok.

  3. Comment by Mike Bedford posted on

    Great advice Dan and congrats on an excellent #blog my friend 🙂

  4. Comment by Ian Young BIS posted on

    Very intereresting blog. I use Twitter a little at work, mainly to follow others in my work area. In our very political policy area we have to be careful what we tweet ourselves, and even more so as we approach the election.

  5. Comment by Steve Rees (DWP) posted on

    Thats all very interesting but I have been told by our operational security people in DWP that we must not have our own name, and we definitely cannot use our pictures so we cant personalise our accounts at all. Difficult to build a following when am a generic nameless faceless DWP account

  6. Comment by A Lifeson. posted on

    Interesting that there is a fairly even split between those that say social media is great and those that feel people who use it should get a life or as someone actually said "idiotic". I'm not sure I need to use Facebook or Twitter for my professional role but I enjoy the connections that I've made with long lost friends through those channels on a social basis.

    Live and let live - some like to use social media some don't. Neither party is right, it's a choice to use them or not.

  7. Comment by Esther Proctor posted on

    Twitter is infested with exhibitionists, narcissists and voyeurs or those who simply cannot fill the yawning void of their day. It is a value-free zone of witless, inane drivel. There is no conceivable reason why any adult, let alone a civil servant, should want to expose themselves to this tsunami of bile and nonsense.

  8. Comment by Buster Friendly posted on

    Twitter, Facebook, Yammer ( whatever the fudge that is )- even if I could access them at work I would not, because I have real work to do ( not swanning around meetings with a tablet ); I am not being paid to waste time on 'social' media. I do not discuss my work with anyone: if anyone asks what I do I tell them " boring office admin " which quickly shuts that avenue of discussion down.

    • Replies to Buster Friendly>

      Comment by Alex posted on

      "I am not being paid to waste time on 'social' media"

      None of us are. And this article doesn't say that we should. It says that social media can be a valuable tool in the workplace if you choose to use it and use it properly.

      I note that, despite "having real work to do" you had enough time to "waste" a couple of minutes commenting on a blog - a medium that was arguably the first form of social media, and one that you've engaged with...

  9. Comment by Sharon posted on

    I can't access Twitter or Facebook from my office terminal, despite having a dedicated Facebook group for the local Army Families community centre which I run. I have to do all the Facebook admin and advertising of events in my own time during evenings and weekends.

  10. Comment by Paul posted on

    Hi I work for DVSA, entered work e-mail into Yammer, received e-mail to join - Unable to follow link as its blocked!

  11. Comment by K Brown posted on

    Not interested in 'social media' one bit! I don't use it at home (I have a real life!), and don't want it forced upon me in the workplace. Clients can already contact me by telephone, post and e-mail so isn't that enough? I have enough trouble keeping on top of e-mails and trying to do my work as it is.

  12. Comment by Jem Trex posted on

    It is not surprising that Daniel Riches advocates using digital media - that's his job, he is a digital media strategist. I have no use for Twitter or Facebook and I certainly have no intention of putting my life on line in a cloud somewhere. If you haven't heard of "linkability", Google it.

    I cannot conceive of FaceTwit being any use whatsoever in my job, and I certainly would not want to link my name with my job. My first encounter with the internet was around 1995. When I Googled my full name then, there was one hit. It's the same today, the same single hit. I'm proud of that and I want to keep it that way.

    I value my privacy and I will not surrender it because someone says it's cool to use social media. If you don't understand the risks, it's not cool - it's idiotic.

    And before anyone accuses me of being a dinosaur living in the past, I would say I have written several Windows apps, and I don't know how much VBa stuff I've written for my employer - some running to 100+ pages of code.

    No, I'm not an IT professional, just someone who knows enough to be concerned.

    • Replies to Jem Trex>

      Comment by Michael posted on

      It is possible to Facebook responsibly. I have a FB page, primarily for contact with friends, in and outside the department (one lives abroad), but I studiously avoid posting words or pics that associate me with my MOD day job. I cannot claim to have only one occurrence of my name to Google up as I discovered, after acquiring my home laptop in 2011, that it is more common than I imagined it was in the English speaking world (one of my namesakes being a living American writer)!

  13. Comment by Will Richardson posted on

    An interesting counterpoint to this article is the brief version of one on the drawing back of the veil of anonymity from top Civil Servants having an impact on public perceptions of partisanship in

    The Political Quarterly, Vol. 85, No. 4, October–December 2014

  14. Comment by Stewart posted on

    Sad, sad! I spend most of the day working on my computer at work. I personaly have better things to do when I finish, like getting out and meeting friends and doing hobbies rather than sit infront of another computer tweeting. My message #get out and do something.

    • Replies to Stewart>

      Comment by Tim posted on

      Well said Paul. I know no-one who uses Twitter. I DO know managers who send work-related e-mails at 9pm on Sunday evenings! What ever happened to work life balance? Once i'm out of the office door I give work no thought at all until I come back in through the office door

  15. Comment by PAUL GRIFFIN posted on

    We can't 'build our future' unless we use tools that will be used in the future. I've used Twitter for a few years now (not as much as I should) and facebook and one or two other of the social media tools available, and it's gr8 to be able to speak with anybody. Of course, like any technolgical tool, it's double edged and needs responsible usage, but if used appropriately, it's a gr8 way to interact

  16. Comment by Michael (DWP-CCD) posted on

    In the great words of John McEnroe.... "You can NOT be serious !!!"

    Hardly a day passes without a Politician sparking a row by badly worded messages, or Footballers being fined for inappropriate comments. This Social Media Platform is nothing short of dangerous.

    On top of that, it is (as many people have admitted) utterly addictive, and it takes over their life. The same goes for that OTHER Social Media, beginning with "F." They are both ANTI-Social Media, as I have heard horror stories about Relationships being destroyed because of one Party's incessant use of one, the other, or often both... to the point where REAL communication between them breaks down irreparably.

    This scenario is also manifest in the Office. Ubiquitous Example: HEO visits SEO at their desk (which is within spitting distance) to ask if they have received the e-mail they just sent. Then go on to discuss it, then the SEO asks the HEO to respond with comments. Did he not HEAR what they had been speaking to each other about?

    I could go on forever - negatively of course.

    • Replies to Michael (DWP-CCD)>

      Comment by Alex posted on

      "They are both ANTI-Social Media, as I have heard horror stories about Relationships being destroyed because of one Party's incessant use of one, the other, or often both… to the point where REAL communication between them breaks down irreparably."

      I've heard horror stories about relationships being destroyed because of one party's incessant viewing of football, or television, or live music to the point where REAL communication between them breaks down irreparably.

      And I've also heard many, many happy stories about relationships that thrive because they allow both parities to engage in different ways, share more of their lives, keep in touch when apart and so on.

  17. Comment by David posted on

    Interesting blog, but....

    I have a personal Twitter account that I use for tweeting about (mainly) books and The Archers. I think i know what I'm doing with that. I would NEVER presume to go near anything work related because, in Twitter parlance, "reasons" - which are (1) That would make me a mouthpiece for my Department (HMRC). Not only have they said they'd prefer us not to say who we work for on social media, but they don't own me (outside work) and I prefer to use my own time for my own purposes (2) The whole Civil Service code is very, very intimidating. There's maybe an argument to be had about how applicable/ relevant is can be in an age of social media (andeven whether restricting our freedom of speech as it does undermines our human rights) but so long as it's there, we have to obey it. And I think that means taking the safer option and abstaining.

  18. Comment by Ian posted on

    The guidance around what is and isn't allowed regarding social media is confusing to many people. Senior leaders seem to push the use of Twitter but our own internal guidance and Standards of Behaviour seem to warn against it.

    DWP Standards of Behaviour states "... If you are participating on line privately at home, away from the office or in work breaks, you are advised not to associate yourself with the Department or Government generally."

    This says that I shouldn't associate myself with the Department and a quick search on the type of comments people have regarding DWP shows why this might be an issue as it opens myself up to personal and departmental security risks.

  19. Comment by Jas posted on

    It will all end in tears, personal and work should be kept as far apart as the north and south poles especiually given the fact people these days will be offended or misintepret what you are saying at the drop of a hat. There's also the fact that nearly all social media is bloclked at least in HMRC CC

  20. Comment by Sarah posted on

    Really interesting blog - I am an occasional twitter user (personal account) although I suspect I followed far too many people and now am always slightly overwhelmed by the number of tweets in my news feed everytime I check it that I don't think I use it to its full potential.
    Much like many of the other comments to this post, Twitter is blocked by MOD, and as we are also unable to use any mobile devices in the office for security reasons I can't see myself being able to utilise this in my professional life - as I'd only be able to do it in my personal time! But certainly something for the future if the IT policy is ever changed.

  21. Comment by Jennie posted on

    I'm like Josephine, have an account but not a clue how to use it, so any help / idiots guide would be very useful.

  22. Comment by Michael Johnson posted on

    Thank you for your helpful advice regarding Twitter. I have been using Twitter for several years, and while I agree it is great for announcements, I have found it somewhat limiting regarding 2-way communication.

    Also, #hashtags are better used with Facebook and more so Google+ which provide more information without having to click on links.

  23. Comment by Andrew Melling posted on

    I prefer the old-fashioned approach; although I am tech-savvy, I find people respond better if you actually try opening your mouth and let the words come out. It's a lot quicker than using the keyboard, and I tend to get more work done as a result. I'm sure social media has its uses, but in a workplace where management are constantly asking for more work for less outlay, it's just another distraction. Sorry if that sounds cynical, but there it is. Big Brother has never stopped watching you.

  24. Comment by Lee posted on

    Twitter is an excellent, tailorable platform for fun and news. The best advice I can give to anyone considering it is to just jump in and experiment, nothing bad will happen! It won't take long to find your feet and soon you will be following all the people that interest you and nobody else. That's the best part for me.

    However, I never use it in a work capacity, which is why I find it fun. Should HMRC wish to pay me for professional Twitter use, I'd be more than happy. 😀 #hashtag

  25. Comment by Philomena Cunk posted on

    How can I tweet in work when the system blocks twitter? Also can I get Twitter on my Nokia 3310?
    Also if I say on twitter where I work, then surely I'm leaving myself vunerable?

  26. Comment by Christina Oke posted on

    Although am regsitered on twitter, i do not use it due to not understanding it. i cannot see the fun in most things i have read on twitter.

  27. Comment by Shaun posted on

    I run a reasonably popular Twitter feed for a football club I'm involved with, I have managed to get our tinpot club worldwide publicity & Twitter has helped immensely. However, the few accounts I have looked at from senior leaders are incredibly dull & almost always feature the word 'inspired' , how about some lessons for senior leaders, failing that tell them to leave it alone. I recently looked through the accounts of 10 senior figures & they collectively have less followers than tin pot united FC.

    • Replies to Shaun>

      Comment by On Anon posted on

      'Inspired' needs to be placed on a list of banned words! As, tangentially, does 'exciting opportunity'.

  28. Comment by Nigel Snape posted on

    I have a personal twitter account so know pretty much how to use it but I am lost as to how a work profile could help me in my work managing an operational group in HMRC. We can't use it to talk to our customers and most of my colleagues are in the same building so how could twitter bring anything at all to the party?

  29. Comment by Alex posted on

    Two quick comments:

    1) Twitter is a great tool and one that I use extensively both personally and professionally, but its usefulness only goes so far. Don't make the mistake of thinking that "everyone" is on Twitter - they're not. The vast majority of tweets are sent by a tiny minority of tweeters, and regular users of the platform are in no way a representative sample of society. This also means that unless you're very, very careful you'll inevitably end up mainly following people who mirror your point of view. And when that happens, Twitter simply becomes an echo chamber, one that convinces you you're doing a tip-top job.

    2) Why has everyone working in Government comms suddenly started whacking hashtags at the start of everything, for example the subheads in this very blogpost? It serves no purpose, it looks awful, it makes things harder to read and it has the faint whiff of a middle-aged dad saying he thinks his teenage daughter's favourite band is "really cool" in a doomed effort to show that he's still totally down with the kids.

    • Replies to Alex>

      Comment by Joe Hill posted on


      1) Saw a stat yesterday that 40% of Twitter 'users' have never tweeted.

      2) Got the impression they were being used semi-ironically here in a light-hearted blog.

  30. Comment by william posted on

    But Twitter is personal and work is professional. I am bound by my professionalism, and the Civil Service Code, to serve the government of the day but I don't feel this extends to being a cheer leader/lightening rod for policy using my social media persona.

    Happy to do it in the name of the organisation but not in my name.

  31. Comment by Alison Nicholls posted on

    I'm with the Home Office staff! I would love to find out about yammer but the link is blocked (as are most others). I work in the MOD and accessing anything over the internet is a nightmare.

    Chrome has improved some access but it is a case of one step forward, one step back, as we need to put in puid & password again!

    It is quite ridiculous that access to the tools to do our jobs are so restricted and this impacts the service we provide to our patients. It's as simple as difficulty accessing patient information leaflets, health promotion material etc all freely available on the internet but not to us.

  32. Comment by Tom Handysides posted on

    Interesting blog. I've got a personal twitter feed @tomhandysides that I use very intermittently for my interests outside of work. I have a hunch that my work network and my hobbies network might be two quite different kinds of audience. Would you recommend using different Twitter accounts, or trying to develop a style that appeals to both?

  33. Comment by Terry Page posted on

    I think what this fails to recognise is that some of us have roles in the Civil Service that simply don't lend themselves to talking on Twitter or any other social media website about who we are, where we work and what we do.

  34. Comment by Steve Pritchard posted on

    From the MoJ not only is Twitter blocked from access, but the link in the Civil Service News email to this blog is blocked/broken ( seems to redirect to, and for some reason we don't seem to trust the US version of Google, only the UK one). I thought IT was meant to assist in doing your job, not hinder. Our environments are locked down so much as to make them barely useful. #mustDoBetter

  35. Comment by Jill Thrower posted on

    I feel exactly the same as you Josephine, maybe once you are up and running you could help me!

  36. Comment by Andrew Nixon posted on

    This article assumes that everone in the civil service has something of interest/value to say to the outside world in general. I suspect that I am in the vast majority in that the interesting things about my job are confidential, leaving me with the choice of reporting on my toilet breaks and what mood I'm in or keeping quiet. I'm sure everyone is greatful that I choose the latter.
    I have experimented with Twitter and found that there are very few sources that don't fall in within the description 'wittering, inane flood of banality; that jabbering, unreliable ... noise' (I have excluded dangerous, unless wating time and patience is a danger). Few twitter feeds provide enough value to justify reading through the dross, and none of these are work related.
    My advice would be, unless you are one of the few who need to get messages out to an untargeted audience you use methods that focus on the people you need to communicate with. If you know the names of your audience Twitter isn't the way to reach them.

    • Replies to Andrew Nixon>

      Comment by Simon Bagnall posted on

      I agree with Andrew. Recommending to us Child Support workers to start tweeting in regards to work would be disastrous. Just this week I had to attend a 1 hour Security Awareness session that sensibly reiterated the dangers of mixing social media with work. Unless there is a very obvious benefit to your role and the customer then it should be avoided.

  37. Comment by Joe Hill posted on

    Hi Daniel. Interesting blog. What do you recommend for people who have an established Twitter presence related to their interests outside work? Asking for a friend.

  38. Comment by Josephine Bloggs posted on

    Thats all well and good, but whats a hashtag, how do I use it, how do I tweet or re-tweet?.. this advice is brilliant is you already know how to use twitter in the first place!!
    I got all excited when I saw the blog was here (as I have treid to figure out twitter before and pulled out most of my hair), then as I read it I thought - hummm ok, erm.. oh... add my handle to what? well over my head... forget it...

    • Replies to Josephine Bloggs>

      Comment by Civil Service Blog team posted on

      Hi Josephine,
      thanks for your comment - it's really useful because we're definitely planning a blog around this theme, and it's good to know actually we should be providing this sort of information. Hopefully the next one will be more useful to you, and actually we'd love to know what other 'how to blogs...' you'd fine useful.

      Thanks for commenting

      • Replies to Civil Service Blog team>

        Comment by Josephine Bloggs posted on

        Great thanks, will be looking out for that. I would also benefit from an idiots guide to Yammer, it is easier to negotiate than twitter (as its quite 'facebook-esk' in its approach) but a 'this does this' and 'if you want to do this, then press that' guide would be really useful. I wouldnt consider myself a technophobe, but if its not obvious or has a 'how to guide' and I cant figure it out pretty quickly, I tend to not use it. Thanks team.

    • Replies to Josephine Bloggs>

      Comment by Daniel Riches posted on

      Hi Josephine,
      Thanks for your comment. I'd be happy to help you join Twitter and help with those questions. I've got some guides we share with job seekers that help them to use it to look for work and I've coached and helped many people start an account. How about I help you and we get you signed up?!
      If you drop me a line we can kick that off. I'd be happy to walk you through and get you started. Two (well three!) asks back...#1 you help another colleague join. #2 both you and that person tweet to me and @UKCivilService you're up and running and loving it! Oh and #3 you both follow me!

      • Replies to Daniel Riches>

        Comment by Heather Field posted on

        Daniel - I don't suppose you would be interested in running some sessions as I would be keen to join Josephine. I am in a similar boat to her. Tried, took too long to understand and then stopped using it.

      • Replies to Daniel Riches>

        Comment by Lisa Telford posted on

        I saw Daniel Riches at Civil Service Live last year. I enjoyed his brief to us very much. He even assisted setting up a Twitter account for me (thank you!) But unfortunately, as was pointed out on the day, some Govt Depts have embraced Social Media more than others. I work for the MOD but I keep that information well away from my Tweets.

        As has also been discussed on this thread, the MOD IT system does not allow full access to the 'outside world' when at work. I'm also pretty sure that my bosses wouldn't appreciate any tweeting during work hours. It's a great idea in theory, but I'm not so sure in practise. I am, however, interested to see where this thought process goes.

  39. Comment by tim posted on

    I work in the home office and anything under the catagory of social media is blocked by our servers. In the modern world this is beyond ridiculous and is a serious obstacle to our work but no one seems interested in changing it.

  40. Comment by Nicola (Home Office) posted on

    As always, I find it frustrating to read posts like this, click on the 'come say hi to me' link, and find it blocked by departmental IT policies. If social media really is a part of our jobs, then please enable us to use it. And saying that there are 4 standalone PCs in the library that we can use in our spare time is not really grasping the reality of social media.

    • Replies to Nicola (Home Office)>

      Comment by Daniel Riches posted on

      Hi Nicola,
      That's odd! Not sure why Twitter is blocked, I just clicked from DWP and it links through. The link is to my Twitter account which of course I encourage you to persevere and find! I'm @RichesDaniel if you do! Not sure about the Home Office policy but can you see this

    • Replies to Nicola (Home Office)>

      Comment by Jane Danforth posted on

      How frustrating! I work for Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust and we are just beginning to lift bans of sites and engage more with social media @janedanforth

    • Replies to Nicola (Home Office)>

      Comment by Stuart Ward posted on

      Great advice much appreciated. I am Digital Lead for my area of DWP and I am trying to convice others to become more digitally/social media savvy. Your article will be really useful in work that I am doing.