Organisations should look to break news quickly through Twitter and stop thinking of press releases as the primary way to get news out, said Anthony Simon, head of digital communications at Number 10 and the cabinet office.
“What I am doing at the moment is trying to get civil servants to question why the press release is still the common means of communication. Why should that be the main way we communicate?,” he asked the room during his keynote presentation at the Technology For Marketers & Advertisers conference.
Simon explained that for organisations like the government, social media was one of the few direct channels they have to engage with the outside world. Traditionally, Downing Street would have communicated with its audience via third parties, predominantly the media, through press releases. But this is changing, especially under his watch.
“If you think about it, the press release even predates TV. It was something you would have originally typed out, sent via telegram, later by fax, and now people send it out by email. It’s essentially the same process but it’s just been modernised.
“What I’m trying to get people to do is rethink the way that we communicate with people. And we practice what we preach in the Prime Minister’s office, in that we’re not afraid of using social media for major announcements,” he said, referring to the way it recently revealed a reshuffle in the cabinet.
“We tweeted that, rather than announcing it the traditional way through press releases. It’s incredibly democratic, meaning everyone is able to get it at the same time,” he explained. “There are no favoured journalists who will find out first. It’s engaging. And it’s very fast, we can do it within seconds of someone being appointed.”
He added that he is encouraging civil servants to tweet out news directly, rather than filtering it through press officers, but that there has been some hesitation.
“You’ll hear a lot of people talking about risks, ‘what if I tweet the wrong thing at the wrong time and it goes out?’” he said. “Yes, there are risks around it but what are the risks if we’re not doing it? If in 10 years’ time we’re still sending press releases out then where will we be? There’s a lot of thinking around this space, there is a profound change going on. It’s a culture change and it’s something we’re spending a lot of time on.”
But how is this affecting the long standing relationship Number 10 has with the press?
Simon said he believes this new way of doing this will help drive the agenda for traditional media.
“In the past that [announcing a reshuffle though Twitter] would have been quite a difficult thing to do with the media, especially when you’re working with Westminster media who are a very closed shop. They were happy about it, thankfully, because they realised that it was something that always had to go out to everybody,” he said.
He went on to say that there is an understanding by media organisations that they benefit hugely from social media, and ultimately "they can’t have it both ways."
He added: "They’ve got to realise that Twitter is something that organisations are using for their own benefit and it is here to stay wither they like it or not. They’ve not got a monopoly on it.”