Do Governments Need Standards for Microblogging?

Which governments are using the microblogging Juggernaut Twitter? Actually, it can be hard to tell.

There are directories of governments using Twitter here, and here. They appear to be woefully inadequate — my home state of Delaware, which posts its Tweets here, isn’t listed in either. I’m sure there are some other lists out there as well.

Part of the problem is that there is no standard naming convention for public sector Twitter accounts, as there are for things like state and local web site domain names. This can make finding your state or local government’s Twitter feed (or your state legislature, elected officials, state lottery agency, local government etc.) somewhat difficult to find.

As more governments use Twitter – something I’ve argued in the past would be a good thing — this problem will become more acute. What should state and local governments do? Here are my suggestions:

  • Follow standard naming conventions. A good number of state-level Twitter accounts seem to incorporate “gov” into the account name, along with either the full name or two-letter abbreviation of the state. State governments are probably the closest to standardizing on one naming convention for Twitter accounts, and there are organizations in place that can spearhead standards development. There is much less uniformity in local government Twitter account naming and this is an area where states should show leadership and encourage local governments to follow standard naming conventions.
  • Consolidate Twitter accounts at the same level of government. Is it really necessary for state lotteries or transportation authorities to have their own Twitter feeds? Why not borrow a concept utilized so successfully by state governments 6 or 7 years ago, when disparate agency web sites were consolidated into unified state “portals,” and consolidate Twitter feeds into on single account. It would make information both easier to find, and to consume.
  • Proactively acquire meaningful Twitter account names. There are restrictions on who can own .gov domain names. No such restrictions exist for Twitter accounts, and as of yet there is no real recourse for “Twitter Squating.” Using standard naming conventions would make the acquisition and maintenance of Twitter account names easier and more efficient.
  • Spread the love. Twitter rocks, but its not the only microblogging service around, and there are no guarantees that it will be around forever. Governments need to be smart in their use of Twitter and understand that microblogging (as a channel that is used to communicate with citizens and taxpayers, much like e-mail) is larger than Twitter alone.
  • To this last point, I’m not aware of any public sector entities using or other services, but it’s bound to happen eventually — especially since the API so closely mirrors the Twitter API. The development of other microblogging services is another factor that calls attention to the lack of naming standards for accounts used by public sector entities.

    Unless governments get out in front of this issue now, it could diminish the benefits of using microblogging as a channel for communicating with citizens.