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Twitter in Wonderland

We started Tweeting before June 2009 elections. We tweeted information about the election dates, which were not the same in all countries, about the results, during the electoral night. At that time the newborn Europarl_XX accounts (change XX for the 22 language codes) where just learning how to walk, taking the first steps in a world that was new as well for many fellow Europeans. Not we know how to walk, and some of us even started to run, like the eldest brother, Europarl_EN , with almost 11.000 followers.

Like Alice, EP's Twitter presence is steadily growing, at a constant rhythm, and it starts to be difficult to keep it inside the old frame and non written rules -the house, following Alicia's story.

As we have no magic cake to eat and get smaller (and even if we had it we would not like to eat it), we need to focus on how to make the house bigger, but with the same number of bricks. Bricks with the shapes of 22 accounts, 42.500 followers and around 38 tweets per language each week… but the house never grows further than 140 characters.

Some have tried to force tweets longer, but is has never really worked: Twitter inhabitants prefer it 140. In fact, part of its success lies in the challenge of making complex ideas or messages fix in a very short sentence. Sometimes you get a candy in the form of a link where you can discover more; sometimes you get a secret #code leading to a world of information about a particular issue. It is a world where everything is subject to the 140 rule, but where you can open doors linking it to the wider web world, further away from character restrictions.

In our case the challenge is double, as we are tweeting in 22 languages, and you can imagine that the number of characters necessary to write a given sentence differs much depending on the language we are using. An example: "Live", in English, takes 4 characters. The shortest way for me to say it in Spanish would be "en directo": 10 characters. Even if I opted for the less nice "en vivo", I would still be using three more characters thank my English colleague… and those of you who are using Twitter know that three can make the difference between your tweet fitting in or not. Even one could.

We have also faced the question "Who are you?". Some of our followers have started using our names as a synonym for "European Paliament", which is not exactly true. We are the Parliament's web communications team, and as such we provide non partisan information about the activities of the institution; but we don't speak for the Parliament. This said, I am more than happy of people saying "Europarl_ES has approved…" or "I am at the Europarl_ES". But sometimes we receive mentions that want us to engage in a political debate, something which we will not do. We can tell what is the EP position, the result of a vore ot the link to a report or a video of a debate; MEPs will be more than happy to explain their political views on the subject. 

Twitter is a global wonderland where you can have lots of friends and neighbours and go have a tea with them, you don’t need to know all of them very well, but for some reason they look interesting to you. One day your neighbour has something really interesting to say, and you stop for a minute to talk to him. Next day you may prefer to pass by just saying “hello”. Twitter is a patio where you can exchange views, and where we are all white rabbits in a hurry. It is almost impossible not to be late, really difficult to be the one coming up with a scoop or something no one knew before.

In my opinion, the Parliament should try to win that race, but not obsessing about it. We should be the first to announce the result of an important vote, the first to tweet an important meeting or to reflect on a debate. You may think this is obvious, as being the primary source we are the first to get the information. But most of the times we are not the only ones to get it, and some others another rabbit is quicker than us, and while we are coordinating the message to tweet it in the 22 languages, he or she has already published. That is what happens when transparency is your flagship and anyone interested can follow a debate… say it with me in four characters… that's it! Live.

Further from regarding it as a problem, I give it two positive readings. One, there are rabbits out there with a big and genuine interest for EP's issues. And second, it should act as a challenge, making us constantly improve our working methods.

Going back to Alice's world, I even have a Cheshire cat follower. No matter what Europarl_ES tweets, he looks at is with his turning eyes and makes it be related to his subject of interest. Let's imagine he is interested on chocolate. If I tweet about trade, he says that the EU is not protecting chocolate trade, as he cannot see it in the report or the press release. If the tweet talks about culture, then the Parliament is ignoring the cultural value of eating chocolate… 

And don't forget that you can also ask for someone's head on Twitter (virtually speaking of course), even if being the hearts queen there requires lots of support in Twitterland -a democratic way that matches the EP spirit more than the authoritarian Queen of Hearts. For example, in Spain someone noticed that a very well known singer had made a not very smart comment about the Egyptian revolution. It was nothing that serious, but for some reason people started to make jokes out of it, many others followed, it became trending topic… and now there are even jokes about this singer and Twitter. I am sure you have similar examples in other countries. But don't worry, that is something we will never do!

There are many other things in Alice's world that Europarl will avoid: we don't like labyrinths, we don't like people who don't listen, and we don't like to wonder around with no clear objective. Always looking for the straightforward way of saying things and reaching objectives, the next stage on the way is very clear: 2014 European elections. But that is another story!

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