Ireland’s Government reveals its social media strategy

9 Jul 2010

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The Irish Government’s Information Service has built a whole new social networking-led internet platform based on WordPress, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter called MerrionStreet.ie that will see political leaders, including the Taoiseach, ‘tweet’ to the nation.

As first reported on Siliconrepublic, Taoiseach Brian Cowen will imminently be in a position to "tweet" to the world based on any number of issues.

A new web presence entitled ‘MerrionStreet.ie’ will go live ‘imminently’, the team behind the project told Siliconrepublic during an exclusive preview.

The team told Siliconrepublic that the project took five months to pull together.

The move will transform Government communications from the present website and press release format to a more dynamic web presence that will include photography, videos, Facebook status updates, Twitter feeds and web chat.

Most of the information from speeches to photos and video on the newswire-style site will be capable of being "shared" to a wider internet audience whose users can post information to their Facebook statuses, tweet their followers or link the information to their blogs or websites.

The team behind the new MerrionStreet.ie presence told Siliconrepublic that they had seen what other nations, like the UK and France, had done in terms of embracing free social media tools and cited Number10.gov.uk as a particular inspiration.

Government goes viral

“For a period of time there was a sense in Government that the old way of disseminating information through traditional websites left a lot to be desired and we felt the need to move to a more modern era in terms of tools.

“With the addition of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and the resulting rich amount of text, photography and video, we hope to give the citizen, as well as media, a better sense of the activities of Government.”

The new MerrionStreet.ie.ie site was built for the Government Information Service (GIS) by Irish web consultancy Arekibo and it is understood that the overall move cost the State less than €40,000.

“Cost was a prerequisite and we were keen to use available tools like WordPress and Flickr. We were also comfortable with the use of open source in the project. We looked at what the White House had done, what Sarkozy’s people had done and what Downing Street had done and decided to emulate these approaches.”

The result is a much more comprehensive gathering of all news information from the various government departments with the use of large imagery and crisp and clear video. Layout of the MerrionStreet.ie site is very clean with large headlines and clear means of accessing content types and sharing it, as well as drilling down to various departments and accessing a video resource called ‘Doorsteps.’

The homepage will have six tabs, including news, an issues page and a gallery, with a lightbox highlighting photography and video. “The purpose is not to compete with traditional media, we want the citizen to come here and if they want good quality photographs we will present this to them in the best possible way.

“The idea is to have a single place where people can access all related Government news and share it with the world.”

The team realise the appetite for information on all things Irish. The announcement of the 1901 census being a key tool for potential tourism attracted 60 million hits, for example.

“We have seen how viral everything is on the internet and feel that people should be able to share videos of the Taoiseach making a speech, for example, on YouTube or Facebook.”

A Government asset

While Cowen will soon be able to tweet to the nation, the GIS said the MerrionStreet.ie resource will not be used as a political tool by any party in power.

“This is a Government site. We believe it will stand the test of time very well and will be a key asset for any Government.”

The team has studied Twitter and other social media and says the language of State communication will become simpler.

“If a tweet that comes from MerrionStreet.ie comes from the Taoiseach it will include the initials ‘BC’ so people will know that it came from Brian Cowen.

“Not every tweet will come from the Taoiseach but they will feature remarks from leaders in the appropriate context, for example, if there was a remark to be made in the context of economic indicators, like Exchequer returns.

“It is our job to report fairly and accurately what is occurring. But if a politician refers to something that has a particular value or resonance it will be clear that that is the word of the politician, not MerrionStreet.ie.”

“This will not be a political tool. It is the result of a study of more than 20 other governments’ best practice and reflects an awareness among Government departments that people expect a greater dimension. Mere text doesn’t cut it and people expect more.”

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com