Social Media Marketing Example #21: The United Kingdom Government

The social media case I’m writing about today, UK-sponsored 10 Downing Street, is unique among the others in our series of 26 Social Media Marketing Examples In Detail.  Unlike the other list-members who use social media as a means to convince people to buy/utilize a separate product or service, the sole purpose of the UK Government’s social media efforts is to promote use of the UK Government’s social media efforts.

Already 60 million citizens strong, the United Kingdom does not seem to be recruiting too many new faces. Instead, 10 Downing Street‘s social media efforts are designed to allow better and clearer access to the government. So instead of selling widgets or promoting a service, 10 Downing Street is sponsoring the development of civic-minded citizens by making the government seem more accessible via its use. It also makes Prime Minister Gordon Brown (aka “the PM”) look pretty tech-savvy.

So let’s jump in and see what the UK’s been up to.

The UK Government on Facebook

So it turns out that the official UK Government Facebook page, Number 10 Downing Street, is actually a Facebook application page rather than your typical fan page. Considering the 60+ million residents the UK boasts, the current total of 335 fans and 583 active monthly users makes me think this isn’t the best way to activate your Facebook audience. The application page lacks any content under the Info tab on the app page, the administrators of the page have not posted any content, and very few users have posted on the wall. Rather than having the entire Facebook presence exist within a single application, Number 10 Downing Street could greatly benefit from creating a fan page on which the application could live and serve its purpose while also providing administrators, leaders, fans, and users a more interactive channel to access and share information.

With that said, it seems that they’re at least off to a decent start with the application. It’s actually pretty cool and useful (and even though I’m located in the US, I added it to my profile so I can get daily updates of the British government in a cute box on my profile). The app is pretty well-organized and is jam-packed with news updates, photos, videos and articles.


It seems like the UK has made its Facebook platform into two one-way streets instead of one two-way street of interaction. Interested citizens can post anything they want, but they shouldn’t expect a response or personalized activity from the other end. However, if the goal is to provide UK-based Facebook users with the latest newsbits from the PM (like his pledge of £250 million to global healthcare initiatives) conveniently located next to their Facebook walls, then consider it a success.  

The UK Government on Twitter

10 Downing Street may not be first-rate in its Facebook page, but its Twitter account is smashing indeed. With 1.39 million followers, it appears that @10DowningStreet is effective in spreading news of the Prime Minister’s actions, opinions and whereabouts.

It’s possible that 10 Downing Street’s Twitter triumph and Facebook failure can also be attributed to its more newsy purpose. The UK Government wants to keep people constantly up-to-date on the goings-on of the Prime Minister. This kind of rapid-paced media is much more adaptable to the Twitter culture, which almost makes me wonder about Jim Tobin’s prediction for the future of Twitter.

10 Downing Street also follows almost 500,000 other Twitter accounts. And, unlike its Facebook counterpart, it uses this information to interact with its audience. As of the writing of this blog post, fourteen of 10 Downing Street’s last forty tweets have been either retweets of other people’s content or @ replies to its followers.

I also really dig the whole “PM” thing. The words “Prime Minister” literally never appear on the page (“Gordon Brown” appears on occasion, usually for more formal announcements such as his statement on the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy). The primary reason behind this abbreviation is probably for convenience’s sake. If you’ve only got 140 characters to work with, you don’t want to spend fourteen of them on formalities. But still, I can’t imagine nineteenth century government-sponsored press releases referrring to “QV’s” visits abroad. This is a good example of the way that social media can give leaders of all sorts a more on-your-level connection with the public at large. The “Prime Minister” is important and fancy and has security guards and a private airplane, but the “PM” – that’s just a chap on Twitter.

The UK Government on YouTube

In my opinion, the UK Government’s 10 Downing Street YouTube channel is their most impressive social media outlet. With over 350 videos, it would take well more than seven hours to traverse this English channel.

One of the most captivating aspects I saw on the site was the “Ask the PM” feature. Anyone with a video recorder and internet access had the opportunity to upload a question for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as long as their video was uploaded before midnight on Saturday 21 June 2008. Visitors to the site could vote on which questions they would most like to be answered, and Brown gave selected questions a 45 to 60 second response. So far 16 questions have been responded to. I’m not sure if this program was a one-time deal, or if the PM has plans to “Answer” again. But I certainly hope that this program is continued, as I think it’s an incredible way for the people to feel as if their concerns have been heard by country leadership.

The channel is also updated two to three times per week with current event videos concerning everything from government press conferences to the Prime Minister’s visits abroad to his speeches to Parliament. The 120 videos posted in the past year have received an average of 3527 views each.  

The UK Government on Flickr

10 Downing Street’s Flickr Photostream adds about ten to twenty photos a few days each week. Most of the pics are of typical “newspaper” quality – don’t expect any behind-the-scenes shots of the Browns watching the tele in their evening trousers. Nonetheless, the site is a great visual counterpart to 10 Downing Street’s Twitter page. You can see Gordon and Sarah Brown speaking at G20 summits, greeting models and designers at London’s fashion week and hosting a “reception for backing youth talent.”

Browsing through the photos definitely gave me a good idea of the day-to-day life at 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister wears a lot of suits and shakes a lot of hands and makes a lot of speeches. One of my favorite photos comes from the PM’s meeting with maternal health campaigners.

It’s a cute photo.  And it makes the Prime Minister and his wife look endearing and fun – standing in front of 10 Downing Street, the architectural symbol of the executive branch of the UK government. As with most of 10 Downing Street‘s efforts, the Flickr site rings of pro-Prime Minister publicity, but it also allows for a level of observation and interaction with Mr. Brown that would never be possible without the internet. 

Overall, I think the UK does a good job with their social media. They could add a few Facebook features here and there, and the fact that “Ask the PM” hasn’t been updated in a while is kind of a disappointment. But the Twitter and Flickr pages are pretty loaded and pretty impressive. For a not-for-profit motivated entity, the PM and his crew do a top-notch job giving plebeians like myself a peek inside 10 Downing Street.

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