It was about a year ago that David Cameron, when asked by a DJ why he didn’t make more use of Twitter to spread his message, replied: “Too many twits might make a twat.”
Enough time has elapsed for the prime minister to reflect on his words and realise that the only one looking like a, er, twit was himself.
From Sarah Brown to Barack Obama, no politician now considers it infra dig to get their thoughts across in 140 characters or fewer. Tweeting Tories include @WilliamJHague, @EricPickles and @Jeremy_Hunt. And, yes, even, @Number10gov is in on the act. On the other side of the house, @johnprescott and @DMiliband are two ideologues unafraid of the 21st century. Our local representatives in Brighton and Hove seem to have mixed feelings about social media: Caroline Lucas has embraced it with enthusiasm (@CarolineLucas); Simon Kirby (@Kirby4KT) needs to update his feed more frequently; and Mike Weatherley is off the radar.
For those who still harbour scepticism over the efficacy of Tweeting, here is some compelling news. Last week the parents of a boy who was missing in Sussex put out a tweet asking people to look out for him. This was picked up and retweeted by their friends and from there it mushroomed. Someone who was involved in the effort told me that the estimated reach of the tweets was 10 million. Most of the standard reporting applications for Twitter gave up under the volume of tweet and retweets. There is a happy ending: the boy was found safe and well, due to the power of Twitter.
If this has convinced you that now is the time to dip your toes into the welcoming waters, here are five top tips to get you started:
1. Know thyself: stick to topics that interest you and you’ll find that you are interesting
2. Be specific: the limited character count is a boon to good writing
3. Socialise: retweet and respond frequently. It’s called social media for a reason.
4. Keep cool: as at any party, you might encounter the odd bore and nuisance. As you would in the real world, be polite and move on.
5. Don’t mix business and pleasure. Work out whether you have come to play or get serious. And don’t pester people to read your blog. Even this one… oops.