Downing Tweet: is this about the personal, celebrity or patronage?

10 Downing Street on TwitterThere has been a lot of interest in Downing Street joining Twitter. But does it really mean much, or anything, that’s new?

At the moment number 10 is using it predominantly as a means to feed us links to press releases plus the odd Youtube film. Very good.

Within less than 24 hours 178 people were following the updates and very sociably the Prime Minister’s Office has begun following fellow twitterers. Sorry if we’re a bit loud.

Simon Dickinson was very fast to blog it, as was Paul Bradshaw who treated it as a tweeting and blogging news exercise. Marshall Manson and Stuart Bruce wondered if this is the first Prime Minister(s office) on Twitter. If this is true it doesn’t seemed to have interested Twitter on their blog but has raised eyebrows in Holland, The US and Spain. Shane Richmond is sceptical about its true value, Steve Clayton treats it as a bit of fun while Matt Wardman has started laying claim all sorts of other twtiter/govt feed names.

This is not the first time the UK Government has ventured onto twitter.

I’ve been followingHMGOV on twitter HMGOV for a week or two now. Again it is quite literally a feed of news (as HMGOV sees news). What is interesting is that so far it has only attracted myself and 12 other followers (as I took that grab earlier today).

So what is going on?

Does being a top 100 follower give access to power? Glib I know but there was no equivalent rush to follow HMGOV. (Update – his was set up on the personal initiative of Justin as a personal tool for tracking news updates using twitter)
It is clear that Downing Street is potentially much more influential than a news feed from something called HMGOV (which doesn’t even have a link to a home page) and the social web is partly about patronage, attaching oneself to those with greatest/most useful influence. This is echoed by the fact that celebrities will often have the most ‘friends’ on any social network.

Is it also a minor indicator of how the web is essentially personal? Following HMGOV is like befriending the NHS – amorphous and meaningless. DowningStreet is smaller and one can imagine (just) that a known individual (called Gordon Brown) might see or even feed the feed from time to time. However I think the account might build more enduring relationships if it had a name behind it and not Gordon’s because that isn’t credible.
What other questions does this throw up:

    How do senior government figures use patronage as they extend their professional social networks online and will it differ from how they act in other networks?
    How far will their feeds, blogs, social network profiles attract such large audiences that they diminish the influence of mainstream media?

Any answers? Any other Questions?


  1. Scott says:

    I’m curious about 10 Downing Street following twitters – does this mean they actually want to know what we think? … I thought not.

  2. Justin says:

    Hi Nick,

    I actually built the HMGOV twitter feed. For me it was something that I needed because I like to use twitter and wanted to keep track of government press notices. Its not an official Gov product but I know that there are a couple of people in government that are using it – and have subscribed to the RSS feed.

    Your points about patronage are spot on – unfortunately I don’t quite have the pulling power of the Prime Minister.

    It will be interesting to see how this develops. I was quite surprised to receive an email from the downing street service to say they are now following me, so perhaps there really is the potential for this to be about dialogue and not broadcasting.

  3. Nick Booth says:

    Scott 😉

    Justin thanks for the comment and congrats. It’s interesting to see your motive for the HMGOV feed – as a personal tool which others can share (and presumably to encourage experimentation in Govt).

    That undermines my argument that particular tools are supposed to be personal. In truth they should be what we make of them and what they will let us use them for. Just because a hammer is intended for bashing nails doesn’t mean it won’t almost make a might fine doorstop.

    I do though think the cultural argument of govt individuals rather than govt organsiations on the social web will take a good while to sink-in.

  4. Matt W says:

    I don’t think that being an early follower gives any advantage – I *think* that new ones are added at the top (which makes sense since it equalises exposure). Not a patch on the move Simon made when he put a case study on the ex-Civil Serf blog site.

    I was quite flabbergasted that they didn’t claim 10downingstreet (which fits in with the website).

    There are interesting possibilities in giving an alternative viewpoint (which would be following the precedent of what happens – for example – on

    scottishgov simply follows on from some mild satire I did when they pulled the rebranding stunt in the first place.

  5. Justin says:


    I agree that it should be about govt individuals rather than organisations, hopefully this is a step in the right direction to make that happen.

  6. Nick Booth says:

    Matt, First thank you,

    Next, being an early follower has one advantage when it comes to patronage – the eyes of the most influential are quite(most?) likely to be on a project at it’s launch, so jumping on it then may catch their eyea. I don’t want to sound too cynical because I’m not, yet I do think there are interesting questions around politicians and civil servants using the social web and people seeking the benefits of being connected too them. Especially if we can persuade them to use the web more as individuals rather than institutions.

    I think useful paralells are found between the guidelines for civil servants and the bbc guidelines on using the social web, llargely because journalists are expected to be named individuals, even though they are acting on behalf or a corporation. These were comparisons made by a number of folk during the civil serf shennigans.


  7. watfordgap says:


    Thanks for the heads up.


    Rush for signup to 10 Downing Street feed … I could liken it to funding the Third Sector. For example new funding is announced and meeting to tell all is convened … many people turn up of which 75% are only there because they smell the money, its the other 25% that want to see it make a difference that matter.
    The comparison … rush for early adoption on 10 Downing Street feed is it because people have a sniff that the hallowed office will throw out some really meaty news and the hype causes more to follow so they don’t miss out?

    I went for HMGOV as it is more about where i’m at – I’m one of the 25% that cares about all the news and press releases in that feed (thanks Justin!) and how these can impact my work and those of the Third Sector, Communities and Local Groups that I work with.

    Perhaps this is a Central Govt / Third Sector comparion that doesn’t quite fit … just my 2p’s worth.

    Still uneasy about Twitter being used for direct newsfeeds as its takes away the personalisation aimed for by the “What are you doing?” question, however there is a place for a service proving simple mass market opt-in feeds of news … what I wouldn’t want Twitter to become was overloaded with Spam feeds offering news from TV shows, or worse Spam feeds. I guess as you have to opt in it won’t happen but I do foresee us all getting swamped with “Busty Sarah” and “Pills Unlimited” want to follow you requests!

    Paul Webster / watfordgap
    NAVCA – ICT Infrastructure Support and Development

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