Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Social Media for Politicians? Heck, Ya!

What a difference five years can make…
I saw a news story recently here in Arizona where the use of social media by lawmakers was lauded as a smart tool for elected officials to keep the public informed. The reporter even admitted his first stop in covering the work at the state legislature is the Facebook and Twitter accounts of local lawmakers. You can watch it here.
I agree, and am an active user of social media (as I was when I served in the Arizona Legislature, myself). But, I can’t help laughing at how long it took the mainstream press to catch on to this. I mean, they are in the information business and all.
Way back in the dark ages (2006) I entered the social media venue as a state lawmaker. But, rather than embrace the effort and celebrate my extra time spent creating easy access for my constituents to the work I was doing at zero cost to the taxpayers, I was ridiculed in the local press. These “keepers of the public interest” journalist types wrote about how silly it was that some of us younger politicos were somehow tainting the office by engaging in social media forays.
Luckily, I was given a heads up of the story to break the following morning, which gave me time to go into my brand spanking new Myspace (remember Myspace?) page and turn it into a promotional page for my work. I remember thinking it was very nice that the state’s largest newspaper (remember newspapers?) was going to direct their readership to my own little corner of the social media universe and decided to seize the day, rather than hustle and beg them to kill the story.
There is a constant push and pull in this struggle to control the information flow, and that isn’t new. But, the new embrace of social media by political figures and journalists alike is a good thing. As Arizona Speaker, Kirk Adams, says in his interview regarding his new nickname “Tweetmaster”, “It is like having a printing press in your pocket.”For voters hungry for unfiltered information about the policies that will affect them, social media is offering something no traditional media form has been able to in history… real time, live, direct access to their policy makers.
One doesn’t have to struggle, though, to see the downside of this. Let’s face it, some politicians are quick on their feet and have great judgment in regards to messaging and when it makes sense (and when it doesn’t). For those that don’t, the expectation that they get out there and join the information revolution is not going away. So, to those that honestly look at their abilities and time constraints and think, “Holy smokes. I can’t do this. It is a disaster in the making…” I’d suggest finding someone who can and will help you put your best foot forward with social media very quickly. Bright ideas and IT expertise will only take you so far and a career can crash with one improper post by a politician… Which is why many have moved so slowly to embrace the technology and some legislatures have really tried to clamp down on the activity.
The good news is that professionals with real political savvy are springing up all over to help. And, like choosing any professional for an important job that could ultimately make or break your business, you need to hire someone with a proven track record.
Keep in mind, though, that anyone who tells you they are a social media expert may be that, but still have no clue how politics, policy, or news cycles work. I am happy to make specific recommendations to anyone who contacts me, but generally, I’d suggest you get someone who has really “been there” in the trenches professionally long enough to do the job right the first time.
I wonder where we will be five years from now, if this is how far we’ve come since 2006? Star wars-like holographic images of speeches? *Shudders*
Originally posted on PunditLeague.us.  Follow the author on Twitter @PamelaGorman 

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