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Get schooled on Twitter ... by UK government

Image: British Parliament; Gladstone's Address
"While tweets may occasionally be 'fun,'we should ensure we can defend their relation back to Our objectives," said English prime minister William Ewart Gladstone (1809 - 1898) in his last speech in the House of Commons, London. (Not really.) Hulton Archive / Getty Images file
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If you’re still not hep to the Twitter, that new-fangled InterWebs thingy all the kids are talking about, you’re far from alone. A recent LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll survey found a whole lot of people who don’t know a re-tweet from a hashtag.

The fact that out of 2,025 adults questioned, a whopping 69 percent didn’t feel they knew enough to comment on the hot and happenin’ microblogging site may be a bit of a bummer to all the advertising and marketing researchers hoping to reap the benefits by tuning into Twitter’s top trending topics that may or may not represent the mindset of the masses.

Whatever. Even within the miniscule polling pool, those results aren’t much of a surprise to those watching this current trend of social media unfold with a jaded eye. Most people, marketers and mega-media behemoths operate Twitter on a seriously steep learning curve, spewing out feeds of what pretty much amounts to self-serving spam destined to be lost in a sea of who-really-gives-a-damn.

But you know who does seem have a pretty good handle on Twitter? The British government.

Well, maybe not everyone associated with Parliament, but certainly self-described “government Web geek” Neil Williams. As head of corporate digital channels at the British Cabinet’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), he’s the guy behind “Template Twitter Strategy for Government Department,” a 20-page document about Twitter — what it is and how to use it.

Geared towards the country’s civil servants, “Template Twitter Strategy for ” may read a bit dry. Sensitive hipster know-it-all types may find it somewhat pedantic.

Certainly, few news outlets in the United States have missed out on the opportunity to quip that while Twitter posts are restricted to 140 characters, the British government needed 20 pages “to explain the micro blog to its civil servants,” har har.

Even if you don’t give a rat’s shiny wet tuchus about Twitter, a cursory scan of the Appendix will give you the tools needed to intelligently slag today’s hottest social networking tool at parties, or how to toss around groovy tech talk like “hashtag,” “re-tweet” and “DM” without sounding like a total dork.

What’s more, you can get the Twitter skinny without suffering through the contemptuous sighs and eye rolls of the know-it-all veterans who have been using Twitter since … forever (if by “forever,” you mean 2009).

Why, with the “Template Twitter Strategy for Governzzzzzz….,” available Creative Commons style on the document-sharing site, Scribd, you’ll learn how Twitter works, why it’s important, and most importantly, how to not completely humiliate yourself and your country. What’s more, the piece points to Twitter’s value as a listening tool, rather than say, a one-way pulpit from which all should be encouraged to broadcast that stale bagel he or she had for breakfast or other insipid insight.

To be sure, this schooling ain’t as cool as Hogwarts. (Plus, it totally spells “organisation” wrong – repeatedly! WTF?!) But as a guide to microblogging “etiquette and strategy,” for governments, gynormous multimedia corporations, the oversharing individual, or even your Luddite grandma, you could do worse. Our own U.S. government representatives sure have.

Following early exaltations of President Barack Obama heralding the first “wired White House,” the American people have been served up a regular Twitter feed of jackassery. Why, just this June, GOP Congressman Pete Hoekstra spawned a fun Twitter fad when, as the resulting Web site, “,” described, “he compared the life and death struggle of Iranians trying to get their message out via Twitter to the Republican Party’s tussle with Democrats.”

Hoekstra’s inspirational tweet read, “Iranian twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House,” and a meme was born. With the sonic speed that is the InterWeb’s way, “To Hoekstra” immediately meant “to whine using grandiose exaggerations and comparisons."

Pretty soon, all the kids were doing it. Satire tweets abounded, each along the lines of, “I got into a fight with my brother this morning. Now I know what the Civil War must have been like,” or “Someone stole a bag of potting soil from my carport today. This must be how Native Americans felt when they lost their lands,” or “Stuck inside working from home today. Now I know how Anne Frank felt.”

You get the picture.

If Hoekstra failed to learn from those embarrassing tweets during Obama’s first meeting with Congress, we can only assume such Internet self-humiliations from our government will continue.

It may not go so far as to demonstrate that Brits are better at social media than Yanks, but they're earning props for making an open-minded and observant effort.

While the White House can’t get it together to figure out whether its , the U.K. government is up to speed with stuff like Twitter, Flickr, YouTube,, etc. (What no Tumblr?!)

Maybe Obama needs to hire some Brits if he's going to get this open government thing going.

Follow Helen A.S. Popkin's 'human and credible' tweets written in 'informal spoken English' on ...or kick it old school and friend her on on .