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Harper's Twitter followers deluged with exclusive cabinet-shuffle details

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

OTTAWA - What began as a Twitter tease turned into a torrent of tweets.

The use of social media figured prominently in Monday's federal cabinet shuffle, with the prime minister's Twitter account dropping strategically timed hints about what would unfold at Rideau Hall.

Stephen Harper even made a cameo video appearance in a six-second clip telling the 354,000 or so followers of his @pmharper account to stay tuned for "exclusive details" of how ministers and their portfolios would be realigned.

He was true to his word: before the ceremony even began, every single one of his 38 cabinet appointments had been disclosed in individual news blasts of fewer than 140 characters each.

Major announcements like cabinet shuffles are traditionally shrouded in a tight blanket of secrecy. Not so this time.

Long before the Rideau Hall swearing-in was scheduled to take place, Harper's account tweeted that he was appointing eight new faces to cabinet, including "four strong women."

The prime minister's account also posted a handful of videos of ministers talking about their new responsibilities.

Unlike previous shuffles, the media was not provided a list of changes in advance in exchange for a commitment to keep it secret until the appointed time.

As a result, reporters were furiously re-tweeting each cabinet post as they scrambled to keep up with the steady stream of announcements flowing from Harper's account.

Mark Blevis, a digital public affairs analyst, said the strategy suggests the Prime Minister's Office wanted to attract more eyeballs to Harper's Twitter account.

"It was more of a recognition that they want to draw more attention to social-media properties (of Harper) for communications," Blevis said.

"What better way to do it than on a major announcement, like a cabinet shuffle?"

That likely means more of the same in future, he added.

"Now that it's been done on Twitter, it's going to be controversial probably today and tomorrow, and then it'll be acceptable to make government policy announcements and cabinet position announcements over Twitter. It'll become the norm."

The Prime Minister's Office has given the @pmharper account a softer touch in the last year.

The frequent mini-messages have taken on a more personal, conversational feel, and feature less of the rigid, wooden news-release style of old.

There have even been eyebrow-raising popular culture references, such as to the TV show "Seinfeld," and an exchange with Homer Simpson's account after the Mayan-predicted end of the world fizzled.

In January, the account also generated buzz when it was used to chronicle a day in Harper's life as prime minister.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/130715/new-federal-cabinet-appointments-teased-out-public-twitter-h