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@ZoeStaffsGMPT: Why I tweet (WIT#2)

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@ZoeStaffsGMPT is a well-known probation tweeter, admired for her commitment to her work and the dryness of her wit – she has written movingly about what she has learnt from being a probation officer.

She is the second contributor (and first probation tweeter) in this “Why I tweet” series which features a range of criminal justice Tweeters and asks them to describe in their own words why they tweet, what they get out of tweeting for themselves and their organisations plus any tips or potholes to avoid.

Why I tweet

 At first, I’ll admit I didn’t really know WHY I was tweeting, just that I’d been asked to by my probation trust. Hell; I didn’t really know what twitter was – I’d had a personal account a few years back, but had just stared at the screen, really confused, for a few days, before closing it down. But, when I did a ‘probation officer’ search, I was a little surprised that most staff tweeting were seniors, and therefore tweeted more about opinions, responses to new articles and banter between other colleagues etc. There weren’t many practicing POs specifically tweeting about what they actually did day-to-day. My first aim was therefore to tweet to non probation  people about the actual job. I just imagined my mum (or my offenders’ mums) were listening in, and went from there. Unfortunately, my job has now changed so I’m no longer working face-to-face, and part of me thinks that, really, I should stop tweeting now, as I never wanted to be an ‘opinion’ tweeter. But I’m addicted now so I’m afraid you’re all stuck with me.

 The best and worst things about tweeting

 THE best thing (honestly) is that after 10 years my parents finally know what the hell it is I do for a living, through following me on twitter. My mum also got ridiculously excited when she realised the head of NAPO started following me (I think she thinks NAPO is perhaps a bit more rock ‘n’ roll than it actually is).

The other great thing is when someone tweets you to say you’ve inspired them, or made them think, or just clarified something about probation work they didn’t know. I get a buzz when someone starts following me who has absolutely NOTHING to do with probation; because I think that gives me the opportunity to show our work in a ‘real’ light to people who otherwise would only have the Daily Mail for a reference point (other right wing newspapers are also available).

The worst things are when you have absolutely nothing to say, when people send you nasty messages (although thankfully not happened to me yet) and when you tweet something with a big fat spelling mistake in it. Other than that, it’s pretty brilliant.

What my organization get out of tweeting

 I was asked to tweet by Stephen Hallmark, of GMPT’s PR team, (@GMPTprobationPR) so I thought I’d ask him, and this is what he said:

“During a period of substantial change for probation, both in terms of its finances and also in terms of how it is carried out as the Probation Review gradually unfolds, it is vitally important that as much as possible is done to promote our work to the general public and to lift the lid on what we do.

Surveys consistently show that only roughly 20 per cent of the UK’s population believe probation is effective, with the following quote given to a MORI poll being sadly representative of public opinion: “probation is a clear and simple word: we just don’t know what it means”.

Although Zoe’s Tweets – while being engaging, candid and emotive – will not in themselves help create a groundswell of public opinion clammering for probation to become the Government’s top priority, we live in a world in which social media is becoming increasingly important and we neglect it at our peril.

When GMPT first started using Twitter, in July 2011, only a few Trusts had profiles and fewer still had “official” probation tweeters. GMPT now has eight, and Zoe’s following illustrates the fact that we – together with fellow Twitterarti at Trusts across the UK – are engaging the public in debate about probation, as well as getting the word out to partner organisations and even to the odd offender. Twitter is an important part of the overall objective of using media to positively influence people, and in my view Zoe is one of its best exponents.”

 Tips and successes

Try and inject some humour – although the subject matter I’m talking about can be heavy, most subjects can take a bit of dry humour. Just make sure you take the mickey out of yourself, not others.

Type and ‘hold’ – I type my tweets then leave them on my phone, and get on with something else for 5 minutes. If when I look back they still seem OK, I send them. When I was working with offenders and tweeting about them, I’d wait maybe 1-2 weeks before tweeting something if I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t jeopardise their supervision, or expose who they were.

Follow those who follow you (making a little twitter circle!) It’s nice to show a bit of mutual appreciation, and you get to find out who the people who follow you are, and what’s important to them. I don’t follow companies though, and admit to sometimes unfollowing those who moan A LOT, or say things I really don’t agree with.

Mix business with pleasure: My mum disagrees with me here, but I think you need to mix up the work tweets with some more irreverent (my mum would say “irrelevant”) tweets about funny stuff in your life. I am careful never to give away where I live, or specifically where I’m going, but I’m using my own name so I may as well be a person, rather than a PR machine.

Mistakes and failures

No Ranting – For me, twitter is not a soap-box. It’s a golf-sale sign – pointing people to your shop front and showing them what you do. Sometimes I’ll tweet something which I’ll realise perhaps is a bit too ‘ranty’ or opinionated for my style. There are plenty of really good ‘rebellious’ tweeters out there, but it’s just not for me. I’m not confrontational or contrary in my work with offenders, so I don’t see why I should be on twitter. My big tip in these situation is delete delete delete! There’s nothing wrong with deleting a tweet quickly and moving on.

I am sure I’ve made plenty of other mistakes, but I’m not about to admit to them on here.

Next Wednesday Kim Evans, @lifeincustody, ex-police officer, lawyer and commissioning editor at The Justice Gap, on why she tweets.


Get Russell’s free guide to Twitterfectiveness.



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