A British bureaucrat has published a guide to Twitter etiquette and strategy, intended for use throughout the government. The stiff, formal document about a casual microblogging service is generating worldwide headlines, but it's hardly the first of its kind.

The U.S.'s own ossified organizations have been grappling with Twitter strategy as well. Among traditional news media, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Times and Associated Press have gone so far as to admonish staff on how to use their personal Twitter accounts; despite lacking a First Amendment, the British government's "Twitter strategy" does not go that far.

Using the AP news wire's authoritarian guidelines as a point of comparison, here's how the U.S. stacks up against Britain when it comes to Twitter rules:

How much does Twitter rock?

  • British government: " The platform is experiencing a phenomenal adoption curve in the UK and being used increasingly by government departments, Members of Parliament... [it] has the potential to deliver many benefits in support of our communications objectives."
  • AP:"These networks also have become an important tool for AP reporters to gather news – both for big, breaking stories and in cases in which we're seeking out members of the public who might serve as sources for our stories. And they're a prime source of citizen journalism material."

How might Twitter destroy our organization, forever?

  • British government: "Inappropriate content being published in error, such as... protectively marked, commercially or politically sensitive information... Require clearance of all tweets through nominated people in digital media team."
  • AP: "Posting material about the AP's internal operations is prohibited on employees' personal pages, and employees also should avoid including political affiliations in their profiles and steer clear of making any postings that express political views or take stands on contentious issues."

When is it terrible to befriend someone, on the internet?

  • British government: "We will not initiate contact by following individual, personal users as this may be interpreted as interfering / ‘Big Brother'-like behaviour... We will, however, follow back anyone who follows our account."
  • AP: "Managers should not issue friend requests to subordinates, since that could be awkward for employees. It's fine if employees want to initiate the friend process with their bosses."

Can Twitter be 'fun?' Or do 'fun' and 'failure' start the same way?

  • British government: Fun=fun! "In keeping with the ‘zeitgeist' feel of Twitter, our tweets will be about issues of relevance today or events/opportunities coming soon. For example it will not be appropriate to cycle campaign messages without a current ‘hook'.
  • AP: Fun=failure! "It's not just like uttering a comment over a beer with your friends: It's all too easy for someone to copy material out of restricted pages and redirect it elsewhere for wider viewing."

How, exactly, should we exploit Twitter?

  • British government: "While tweets may occasionally be ‘fun', we should ensure we can defend their relation back to Our objectives. Where possible there should be an actual link to related content or a call to action, to make this credibility explicit. "
  • AP: "Feel free to link to AP material that has been published... link to member and customer sites... try to vary the links to spread the traffic around. It's a good idea to reference the AP in the promo language. "

[Template Twitter Strategy for Government Departments]

(Pic: Carrot Creative on Twitter)