‘The account should not be used to engage directly with members of the public’ – policy paper reveals Twitter guidance for top civil servant

Before joining the Twittersphere, the head of the Northern Ireland civil service was equipped with a seven-page handbook including suggested hashtags and accounts to follow, it has emerged

A Twitter account set up last month for the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service aims to “help staff feel valued and proud to be a Northern Ireland civil servant”, according to a seven-page policy paper.

Detailed guidance for David Sterling’s Twitter account sets out which hashtags to use, types of accounts to follow and how to engage with other users on the social media platform. The document, seen by The Irish News, said the account would support the NICS People Strategy, which aims to cultivate a “well-led, high-performing, outcome-focused” civil service.

It said the public-facing account, which should be run by press officers initially, would make the NICS top leadership more visible and bolster morale among civil servants. It suggested 20 examples of hashtags to use, including “#leadership”, “#proud” and “#improvinglives”, The Irish News reported.

Sterling’s first tweet on 4 August was from Belfast Pride. “As an employer to 23,000 people, the NICS respects and values diversity and is committed to delivering an inclusive workplace for all our people #NICSdiversity #ComeOutforChange,” he said.

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Since then, the account has mostly been used to publicise announcements by Stormont departments and Sterling’s engagements. Last week it shared photographs from meetings with information commissioner Elizabeth Denham, and with MLAs to discuss sports in schools.

Stormont departments and media outlets are among nine categories of Twitter users the account should follow, according to the policy paper. 

“However, the account should not be used to engage directly with members of the public or respond to media enquiries, requests for information or meetings,” it added.

Sterling’s account links to the Executive Office’s social media policy, which informs the public that messages sent to officials via Twitter and Facebook may go unanswered. “Emerging themes or helpful suggestions are routinely passed on to policy colleagues in the department,” it stated.

The policy highlighted that social media accounts should not be used for media enquiries but added: “We do, however, reserve the right to comment on inaccurate coverage or comment.”

Sam Trendall

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