Is it any wonder that things have gone badly for Judith Collins on Twitter? According to my sources there is no training or tangible support given to MPs on how to engage with social media and generate positive returns from it. This compares with all of the talking points and media training they get for dealing with the mainstream media? My understanding is that National MPs get dedicated time with coms advisors, be they in house or contractors, before going on shows such as Back Benches, plus Ministers have dedicated Press Secretaries to advise on mainstream media issues.
Social media is just like any other form of media, it has its own rules and conventions. It is fine for the average user to learn these by experience, but it is not a great idea to let MPs, or Ministers, do the same. No political party, in its right mind, would let an MP be interviewed by the media without some form of training and advice on how to deal with them. Why should it be any different for social media?
If parties expect their MPs to perform on social media, and generate positive returns, they need to be willing to invest time and money in giving them the training they need, and the on going support. Producing graphics for them to retweet doesn’t count as support. They should be getting twitter/Facebook friendly talking points that match with the daily/weekly/monthly message, easy to edit templates for them to create their own graphics, along with a style guide that helps them stay true to the style and brand consistency that should be demanded.
There may be a number of, as the PM calls them, “trolls” and “bottom feeders” on Twitter, however there are also a large number of very intelligent people who want to engage in meaningful debate, along with all those who parties may struggle to reach otherwise. The solution to an MP or Minister have a bad day, or a few bad days, on social media isn’t to with draw, baton down the hatches and hope it goes away. The solution is to prepare your MPs, give them the tools and knowledge to get the most of it and get back in the debate. Just like you would with any other media.
To be blunt, part of the blame for Judith’s issues on Twitter can, and should, be laid at the door of her advisors and the advisors in the communication and research unit. National MPs have been left to find their own way on social media, and eventually someone was going to screw up.
A source with experience in Parliament has informed me that at least after the 2011 election, National staffers were receiving some training on the use of social media.