Politicians Still Don't Get Social Networking

By Tracey E. Schelmetic September 29, 2011

While that statement is true in a nearly endless number of scenarios, in this particular case, the topic is social networking. They don't get it.

While eight out of 10 members of Congress have some sort of social networking strategy (a Facebook page, a Twitter account), they are still using social media as just another channel for one-way delivery of propaganda..er...information. While a higher percentage of members of Congress use Twitter than young people today, in most cases, it's not the member of Congress ending the Tweets, but a staffer.

It's the interactive nature of social networking that they don't quite get. While many politicians complain they can't reach the so-called millennial generation (18 to 29-year-olds), it apparently hasn't dawned on them yet that this generation lives online and breathes in the interactive nature of social networking. If you want to reach them, you need to be doing more than plastering slogans on Facebook (which resonates with young people about as well as parental demands to clean their rooms.)

“Social media has gone from a publishing platform to a really interactive space,” Andrew Foxwell, manager of marketing and new media at iConstituent, a constituent outreach consultant, told the Associated Press. “You have to interact. That's the added value of social media.”

Youth advocacy groups agree, and are actively encouraging politicians to engage, engage, engage.

“We want to know how you're feeling,” said Angela Peoples of Campus Progress, who advises members of Congress to be “genuine” in their social media usage. “If you're frustrated with the process, share that with your social media tools.”

The first step, say many, is to stop having your staffers send your Tweets and update your Facebook page. If you want your constituents to hear your voice, it needs to be YOUR voice. Secondly, it's important to make social networking a two-way road: read and respond to the comments you receive in return. Take suggestions to heart. Ask questions. Act on the answers.

So who is doing social media properly? There are four candidates highlighted by a recent Associated Press piece: Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Senator John Boozman (R-AR), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who seem to “get” social networking. (Nancy Pelosi has said that “if you aren't on Facebook, you might as well be faxing your press releases.”) Ryan is a prolific Tweeter, Boozman prepares video clips for YouTube addressing constituent questions and concerns, and McCaskill personally composes all her Tweets and Facebook material. Pelosi offers monthly “technology training sessions” for Congressional Democrats to help them better understand how to use technology to reach constituents.

Does this mean they're all great politicians? No, but it does mean that there's hope that people under 30 are hearing their messages. 



Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

TechZone360 Contributor

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