Skip to main content
Civil Service

Getting a handle on Twitter

Last month, I posted my first tweet as Head of the Civil Service.

Sir Jeremy at the Civil Service Board meeting, January 2015
Sir Jeremy Heywood

The Civil Service, like all long-standing institutions, needs constantly to strive to improve. And a key part of that is being open to new ways of working. As readers of this blog will know, I have always said that effective leadership is essential to changing the culture of the Civil Service so that it can embrace innovation in all fields - whether technology, communications, policy development or service delivery.

Our Leadership Statement sets out the behaviours that civil servants can expect of their leaders and managers. These include being “inspiring about our work”, “confident in our engagement”, “visible and approachable”, and to “show our pride in, and passion for public service”. It’s not too much of a stretch to see these behaviours also applying to the face the Civil Service presents to the wider world. And if Civil Service leaders are encouraging civil servants to embrace the new - we ourselves should be prepared to do the same.

So, it didn't seem reasonable for me, as Head of the Civil Service, not to venture into the world of social media. But perhaps most importantly, I am incredibly proud of what civil servants do, and want to play my own part in making a bigger audience aware of their achievements.

To date, I have only a few thousand followers - so I’m not in Stephen Fry or Taylor Swift territory quite yet, but I hope to keep building up a following, not least among civil servants, and - because Twitter is a two-way street - to follow others, commentators, opinion-formers and influencers, with an interest in the operations of government, who we can learn from and who have constructive, even challenging things to say about how the Civil Service works.

Twitter logoTo echo Paul Maltby in his blog for the Guardian late last year, we have come a long way in Civil Service attitudes towards social media, which was previously looked upon with perhaps excessive caution, even some suspicion.

The other important aspect of openness, as well as receptiveness to change, is transparency and accountability - as civil servants we cannot and should not operate in a vacuum.

So, I will be showcasing Civil Service Quarterly and tweeting about the amazing things you do and directly addressing civil servants - as well as the wider world - about what we are doing and listening to others to ensure that the Civil Service keeps developing and getting better at serving the public and advising the government of the day.

If you haven't already, take a look at my account here and, as they say, join the conversation.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by ANON posted on


  2. Comment by H posted on

    I spotted the same. Seems anyone older is past it as far as the SCS is concerned (of course unless you are SCS).

  3. Comment by Katryna James posted on

    Why is Jeremy Heywood still tweeting regularly during purdah?

    Virtually every other Department and Civil Servant has stopped tweeting and comms activity is at a virtual standstill. I just can't udnerstand it?!

  4. Comment by Nick Matthews posted on

    Good to see that the photo in the Civil Service News email represented a full range of ages, from 25 all the way up to 30.

    • Replies to Nick Matthews>

      Comment by Gill posted on

      Totally agree with your observation on the photo. As a bit of an oldie I feel very excluded from "our Civil Service".

  5. Comment by Anon. posted on

    My Twitter account is my Twitter account and I don't mix business with pleasure. Not withstanding the fact that we aren't allowed to speak about Civil Service matters and aren't allowed an opinion on any other party other than the present govt. especially within the social media anyway and any talk about work on Twitter not only is discouraged but I would get the sack if I did? Also carelss talk costs lives, especially these days?

  6. Comment by Fed up and down trodden posted on

    Twitter is so passé! Should have joined it years ago but that's the civil service for you - years behind the times!

  7. Comment by Sandra Steventon posted on

    Like most Departments (mine included) I guess access to social network sites is barred. It is important to note however that if we did have access this could help some of us considerably in our day to day activities (e.g Tracing elusive clients, keeping us better informed). Please can we consider a controlled access for those departments that would benefit from this information?

  8. Comment by Rebecca Singh posted on

    Done anything differently? I wish, the DVLA has a good working environment and you feel secure as an employee but the nature of it erodes creative thinking for most staff. It needs to be actively encouraged more, perhaps within meeting or workshops. Too often thought he assembly line nature of work is not conducive to creativity.

  9. Comment by Rich posted on

    I found this link in an email about trying new ways of working or experimenting with new technologies and the invitation seemed to be about sharing my experiences rather than criticise someone for joining Twitter (though i do agree that it is ridiculous we do not have access to the most up to date browsers and operating systems at work).
    I have found that we dont even use existing technologies very well, let alone new ones. Therefore, I have been working on lots of IT projects that cost very little to implement but have great results. For example, we automatically email notifications to parties instead of posting, a program that was created internally using tools already available to us, takes a couple of minutes for one user to run everyday and saves a huge amount of paper, money and CO2 footprint. I have also created many other programs that automate processes that used to be very manual and I'm working on many more. Who else is doing this without relying on digital services or outside contractors? It would be good to hear from you!!

  10. Comment by Anonymous posted on

    My organisation believes it is 'ahead of the curve' on social media but the reality is somewhat different. As a marcomms specialist I am allowed to Tweet but - within the very customer-based environment in which I work - I am not allowed to reply to customers who Tweet to us! I know Alex Aiken agrees with me that Twitter is a two way conversation or it is nothing (he Tweeted as much at a recent GCS event) but here's the reality...Some customers recently complained via Twitter about an issue (and had just cause) and I encouraged them via Twitter to use our more formal channels to comment or complain (it's difficult to explain something in 140 characters). Result? I got ticked off for 'encouraging' customers to complain and 'upsetting' one of our contractors whose job it is not to hack off customers in the first place and for driving their customer correspondence up! I wasn't given a chance to explain nor was I able to present plenty of evidence of customers thanking me for responding to them. There is very little social media leadership in my organisation.

  11. Comment by Joe Hill posted on

    There's still some inconsistency (as pointed out in comments elsewhere) between these despatches from the top encouraging use of social media, and the tone elsewhere, whether implicit (social media sites are blocked) or explicit (guidance discourages use). As a result, folk don't know whether they're coming or going.

    These first steps are welcome (if a few years too late!) but it needs to filter into the infrastructure of departments and, crucially, mid-level SCS colleagues (directors & DDs) who set the behavioural tone for their divisions/directorates.

  12. Comment by Trucker posted on

    Twitter!! Whatever next? It's clear that the gurus in their ivory towers really don't have a handle on possible security implications or what restrictions are placed on those departments where sensitive material is handled. This sounds very much like another 'cunning plan' which follows the same traits as our wonderful PAR.... Execs wake up and take a look further afield than your offices!

  13. Comment by Darren posted on

    I'd love to read your Twitter feed, but is blocked by my department's Acceptable Use policy. I'm sure I'm not alone!

    • Replies to Darren>

      Comment by Anonymous posted on

      I use my Twitter account to follow important Organisations such as Network Rail so I know if I can get to/from work.
      I have no interest in following someone who has no relevance to me and isnt interested in what I do in my Govt Department.
      Also as Richard has stated I am not allowed to tweet anything with reference to the Civil Service upon pain of facing a Conduct & Discipline charge - this may not be the best job in the world at the moment, but its the only I have and I would like to keep it.

    • Replies to Darren>

      Comment by Dave Reeve posted on

      Likewise Darren. My Dept also does not allow access to Twitter etc.So much for them encouraging Civil Servants to use Social Media.

  14. Comment by Richard posted on

    I am confused. In March, Francis Maude said we must have ministerial approval before saying anything but we are being told to embrace social media, what are we supposed to do?

  15. Comment by James Arthur Cattell posted on

    Excellent. Thank you for leading the way.

    • Replies to James Arthur Cattell>

      Comment by Keith Spamer posted on

      James, look at the comments below yours and join the real world. What you see on the surface doesn't always represent the underlying currents.