MPs on Twitter: John Key

John Key needs no introduction. He is leader of the National Party and also the Prime Minister. He is coming towards the end of his second term as Prime Minister. He has been an MP since 2002, before which he worked in finance.
His Twitter account has a very low level of activity, which will be talked about later in the post, with 2,300 Tweets. However he has over 105,000 followers.


Unlike all the other MPs I have blogged about, it is obvious that the account is not run by the PM himself. The people running it attempt to create a coherent voice, speaking as one, in a tone that matches with the rest of the image they project of the PM.


But there are obvious examples that get posted where one has to wonder if the PM himself would talk like that. An example is this Tweet sent on 28 Feb:

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Ending the text with “So cute!”. That just does not seem to fit with the image of the PM that has been established in my mind.

The other element that needs to be considered with this Tweet is the image. It is regularly said that politicians get good mileage out of kissing babies in election year. My first reaction upon seeing this image come up on Facebook was, “you can tell it is election year”. I am sure there would have been other images that did not have such a “politicians kissing babies” tone to them. Add to this the fact that this is the fourth photo of that “politicians kissing babies” tone in the space of 7 days and 20 Tweets.

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Talking of photos, it is not just the content of the images that matter. Do the Press Secs on the Ninth Floor not understand that the quality of the photo is just as, if not more important, than having a photo? As you read through the rest of this post, look at the images, the number suffer from over exposure, under exposure, being cropped too heavily, lacking contrast or being far too contrasty, is staggering. It is obvious when the images being used have been sourced from someone who is actually capable of using a camera to a basic degree.


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If you are trying to cultivate an image to be projected, and using Twitter and images as part of that, images like the one above should not be used. It is far too contrasty, the white balance is off and it has been cropped too heavily. This is before we even mention the looks on the faces of the people in it.

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Using Twitter to try and establish a human side to the PM and allow people to connect with him is a good aim. However the desire to achieve this should not come at the expense of  using images of a high standard. Images of this sort of quality have no place in the Twitter feed of a Prime Minister. It is as simple as that. These images are the visual equivalent of the PM’s office issuing press releases full of spelling and punctuation errors. It is not something they would do, so why do they allow the visual equivalent to happen?


When you get past the obvious use of cellphone images and look at some of the other content, there is a sense that the account is seen as a way to get the message out in an unmediated way, but no consideration is given to the fact that Twitter is, by its design, a two way street. Twitter is about connecting with people, and you don’t achieve this by just pushing a message out via Tweets. Now I am obviously not expecting the PM to be answering every Tweet, I hate to think how many his account would get, and lets not even think about the number and content of the abusive Tweets I suspect the account gets. But there does not appear to be any form of engagement with those who interact with the account.


The PM and his media team do a good job of connecting with pop culture events, to help try and gain attention with people form different demographics that may not normally engage with politics.



There are also the Tweets to Lorde before and after the Grammys, Tweets to Team New Zealand during the America’s Cup and many other examples. Not only does this show a level of personal support for New Zealanders preforming on the world stage, but it also helps to make him appear more human to voters. More like a real person, someone they might bump into in the locker room after a cricket match.


The other glaring issue with the PMs image is they are so repetitive. Always the same type of shot to go with stories. Group photos of visits, or images in the middle of a light industrial facility, with horrible light and a cell phone camera.

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If an account is going to take on a stage managed persona, where it is all about presenting a polished image, then this needs to be applied to all elements of it, not just the text of the Tweets and what to Tweet about. But also the image and the content of the images.


When you see high quality images, it is obvious the difference they make. The PM looks happier, more relaxed, more natural. Which all helps reinforce the PMs image.

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Now lets turn our attention to the other form of images that are used by John’s Twitter account. As we all know, info graphics are seen as an effective way to get information across to people. So there are a number of info graphic Tweets. jk 9 jk 12

I assume the aim of the info graphics is to encourage people to retweet them as a way to push out the information they contain. However, as can be seen from the two examples above, 100,000 followers returning 11-21 retweets and 8-10 favourites has to be considered a pretty poor return on investment.


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It is Tweets like this that are getting the best return on investment. 46 retweets and 25 favourites. Add in the Tweet above with the BlackCaps Skipper with 182 retweets and 241 favourites, even still, that is less than 0.2% of his followers retweeting it. If the PM and his media team want to achieve better reach and engagement, there is a need for a reassessment of what and how they are Tweeting.


Twitter is about engagement, interaction and personality. The PM’s Twitter account lacks these. If it is going to generate the kind of returns it can and should return, there needs to be more effort put into allowing those elements to happen. To put it in perspective, the PM’s account is currently followed by the equivalent of 2-2 1/2 electorates worth of people. That is 105,000 people who can be directly engaged with, without media mediation. Two way communication via Twitter takes effort and planning, however the rewards it offers are significant.





  1. I think the word you are looking for is authenticity. If the PM even came in to Tweet once or twice, then that would pay dividends.

  2. I think the image quality question can go both ways. The good-quality photos you show look great, but can be perceived as stage-managed, rather than actually capturing a moment at an event. I tend to prefer the more casual shots, at least on a site such as Twitter, because I feel they capture the man himself, rather than a manufactured image. Formal press releases should certainly have good-quality photos.

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