Can we get an RT? Number 10 turns to Stephen Fry's Twitter following to get their message across

 

They may be unaware until now but Stephen Fry and celebrities like him with millions of Twitter followers could become the prime targets for the new generation of Coalition spin doctors selling Government policy.

Number 10’s head of digital communications has hit the return button on a “culture change” in Downing Street which he hopes will transform the way politicians interact with the public.

Anthony Simon outlined a vision this week which included endorsements from influential people on Twitter he said can have a “great impact” on the Government's campaign work, referring in particular to the Government’s recent dementia campaign.

Speaking at the UK’s biggest technology and marketing event, Mr Simon said that the ability to get Stephen Fry to retweet the Government’s message about dementia, despite Fry not being a “natural fan” of many Government policies, was an important part of its communications strategy. The QI presenter has promoted National Dementia Awareness Week on his feed as well as other links and messages of support for Alzheimer’s sufferers.

With his 6.62m Twitter followers – 11 times more than David Cameron and nearly three times more than the official Number 10 feed – it is easy to see why a Fry endorsement is so warmly received.

Mr Simon told The Independent he was “trying to encourage people to think more digitally” in the Prime Minister’s and Cabinet Offices and that digital communications planning should not be left to specialist teams.

He said: “We don’t have a list of [celebrity] targets but it is important for people to think who their main influences are. Someone with millions of followers retweeting a message can raise its awareness considerably.”

Mr Simon cited Whitehall’s responses to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the Syria crisis, and the recent badger cull, as examples where the Government’s digital communications worked “incredibly well”.

He said: “I want all Government departments to get to that level and for senior people not to think that digital is done by someone else. As long as we have specialist digital teams that exclusively do digital work, we will never get that culture change. We need everyone to be thinking digitally.”

Mr Simon said the Cabinet Office has been using social media to change the way the Government communicates with both the public and media. He said the department tries to “leapfrog” traditional methods wherever possible.

He said: “The last couple of reshuffles we were tweeting the names of new ministers, rather than sending out traditional press releases. It’s democratic, fast and effective. We’ve been doing things in an old-fashioned way, and we try to leapfrog wherever we can to do them in a modern way.”

The United States may be home to the best digital brains in the business when it comes to election campaigning but Mr Simon said Americans “look jealously” at the UK Government’s online communications.

Barack Obama’s social media star Teddy Goff – the digital director behind the 2008 and 2012 Presidential campaigns - managed to raise $690 million online, build a Facebook fan base of 45 million people and a Twitter following of 33 million people. He also registered more than one million voters online. But whereas Mr Obama has 41.7 million Twitter followers, The White House feed has just 4.61 million - Number 10’s has 2.68 million followers in a population one sixth the size of the US.

Mr Simon said: “We also have the gov.uk website as the one online home for all Government communications and it was excellent during the floods crisis where everyone could go online and find information easily in one place – the US does not have that and Americans I have spoken to look jealously at it.”

The British public however does not respond in quite the same way to Government social media. The photo of President Obama hugging his wife Michelle after re-election in 2012 became the most retweeted tweet of all time. By contrast, a photo of Mr Cameron watching boxer Nicole Adams win gold at London 2012 was ridiculed on Twitter – although it received a much more favourable response when posted on Facebook.

Mr Simon said part of Downing Street’s plan is to use Facebook for more emotional content with a Twitter focus on breaking news and policy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor