TORONTO - "Premier Dad" has launched himself into the Twitterverse.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is taking another step towards shedding his stuffy image by joining Twitter.

By 5 p.m. Monday, McGuinty's account had racked up more than 950 followers.

Twitter will allow the premier to "speak directly with Ontarians about what he's up to, where he's travelling and talk about the government's latest initiatives," his spokeswoman, Jane Almeida, said in an email.

He'd considered joining Twitter for some time after hearing about it from his four children, she said.

"On the good advice of friends and family, I've decided to join the Twitterverse," the premier declared Monday in his maiden Tweet.

McGuinty already has a Facebook account and regularly streams his question-and-answer sessions with reporters live on the Internet.

But he's been slow to come around to Twitter, which allows users to post messages up to 140 characters long that their followers can read in real time.

The service has already caught on with McGuinty's political enemies and provincial counterparts.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath already Tweet regularly. Hudak even launched his own iPhone application earlier this year, which his staff claim is a first in Canada.

"We're happy that Dalton's finally come into the 21st century," said Brett Bell, Hudak's director of social media.

"I'm not sure if he knows the difference between a hashtag and a hash brown, but hey, I welcome him being there."

Many other premiers have their own Twitter accounts, including B.C.'s Gordon Campbell, Alberta's Ed Stelmach, Manitoba's Greg Selinger, Quebec's Jean Charest, Saskatchewan's Brad Wall and New Brunswick's Shawn Graham.

McGuinty, who earned the nickname Premier Dad for his "Father Knows Best" governing style, appears to be trying to reach out to younger voters.

He recently gave his blessing to mixed martial arts in the province, after repeatedly dismissing the matches as a non-priority for Ontario families.

A recent poll suggesting McGuinty's popularity as premier is faltering may also be a factor in his sudden embrace of the social networking website.

It's a largely symbolic move for McGuinty, but a practical one, said Greg Elmer, Bell Globemedia research chair at Toronto's Ryerson University.

It gives McGuinty direct access to opinion leaders and voters, bypassing the filter of mainstream journalists who cover him day in and day out, he said.

"Twitter's often romanticized as a wonderful, interactive space where a lot of debate and dialogue happens," Elmer said.

"But Twitter can just as easily be operationalized as kind of a broadcasting of one's agenda or policies."

Rather than using Twitter as a place to debate issues with citizens, most politicians across the country simply post old content like news releases, he said. That defeats the purpose of Twitter, which is meant to be a more immediate form of communication.

"People turn to Twitter when they have something to say at that particular time, and all their friends can see them post at that second, that minute, during the day," he said.

"So if politicians are posting things that are out of date, or a day or two days or three days late, then it makes them look old and tired."

McGuinty's second Tweet promoted a government news release on student test scores issued earlier Monday.

Others have found a way to keep people from tuning out, such as Twitter-savvy Tony Clement, Elmer said.

The federal Conservative minister injects humour and his interest in popular music into his Tweets, which humanizes him, he said.

"I think because of that, the mainstream media and some of the reporters in Ottawa, they appreciate his candour, even though to one extent, it's really about his personal life and not about the policies of the government," Elmer said.

"But I think he gets a pass sometimes, or he at least is given some credit for opening up conversations and letting people know who he is as a person."