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Twitter eyes D.C.

By Steven Overly

Government and technology blogs lit up this week after Twitter posted a job listing for a new government liaison. The hire will “support policymakers use of Twitter to help them communicate and interact with their constituents and the world,” according to the online listing.

But the liaison, who will “help set the culture and approach of a fledgling public policy department,” also won’t be the department’s only hire.

“When we think about the future, we obviously see the government usage of Twitter, whether it’s public officials, candidates, agencies, etc.,” said company spokesman Sean Garrett. “We think Washington has a particular style to it, so trying to manage that market from San Francisco isn’t a very efficacious thing.”

Along with Web sites like Facebook and YouTube, Twitter has been part of a significant transformation in how government officials disseminate information and ideas. As more politicians embrace Internet communication, they can connect with constituents more rapidly and regularly.

But Garrett said that before tools like Twitter can be fully, and correctly, utilized, government users inside and outside the Beltway have to understand how social media works. Education will be in the liaison’s job description.

“I’ve personally worked for much of the last 20 years in technology policy and I think we all recognize there are two different languages being spoken, though they both happen to be English,” Garrett said. “You want to have someone who understands how start-ups work and how members of Congress approach different technologies, and sometimes that can be a cultural difference.”

Conversely, the new government liaison will also help the San Francisco-based company determine how it can better serve policymakers.

Already one local Twitter user is advocating himself for the job: Shaun Dakin, the director of business development for Washington-based Infield Communications. Dakin is also CEO and co-founder of the National Political Do Not Contact Registry.

Dakin said Twitter’s role in last year’s uprising in Iran showed need for company rep in Washington, but no one filled that void. Citizen engagement and government transparency are also areas where Twitter can be a force, he said.

“For a couple years now, I’ve been kind of the advocate against pure political spam, which is what robocalls are, and the antithesis of that is social media,” Dakin said. “It’s an amazing tool for engagement if it’s done well.”

By Dan Beyers  |  June 11, 2010; 7:35 PM ET
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