What Role Do You Want Social Media to Play in Politics
What Role Do You Want Social Media to Play in Politics?
What Role Do You Want Social Media to Play in Politics?

Last Friday Mashable reported that President Barack Obama’s recent #compromise campaign actually cost him over 36,000 followers. Was it an example of how “not” to use social media to move a political agenda or was it a great example of how to spark conversation amongst constituents? I’m sure that’s going to be an open debate for awhile. While we consider the thought of whether Obama and his social media team made the right decision with the campaign, it opens an even bigger question. What is social media’s role in politics? Where do we want to see social media in the political conversation?

Question 1: Are you okay with social media being used to forward political agendas?

There is no question that the #compromise campaign was intended to put pressure on the Republican party. Parties aside, is this okay? Do we want political figures using social media to sway public opinion on a topic? Or does this compromise the integrity and purity of the dialogue between constituent and politician?

Question 2: Would you use social media channels to share your opinions with your political representatives?

Clearly, one of the benefits of social media is the ability to have two way conversations and politicians are supposed to represent the opinions of their constituents. Therefore, social media is a great opportunity for politicians to facilitate that dialogue and take the opportunity to get feedback from their constituents directly. Many politicians, especially at the local level end up getting feedback from a few very passionate constituents and rarely hear from the majority. Is social media a channel that will facilitate this dialogue and help them make better decisions for their constituents?

Question 3: Do you want the opportunity to participate in town hall style meetings with your local and national representative to understand the issues and possibly share your perspective?

Our society keeps getting busier and busier. In a recent study released by the Congressional Management Foundation it showed that many of our political leaders still value in-person meetings as more important than facilitating online meetings.

  • 98% said attending events in the district/state are important
  • 90% said in person town hall meetings are important
  • 83% said telephone town hall meetings are important
  • 44% said online town hall meetings are important

Does this accurately reflect how important these events are to you?  Do we really have time to attend in-person meetings? Is that giving our representatives and accurate reflection of public opinion? Would you be more active if you had the ability to participate online?

Question 4: Would you subscribe to the blog of your local or national political representatives?

In the Congressional Management Foundation’s study it showed that a member/senator’s blog was considered the least important channel to understand constituent’s views and opinions with only 34% citing it as important. Is this an accurate perception? Would you follow a political representative’s blog to stay informed?

Question 5: Which of these is the BEST way for your representative to understand your views and opinions?

It’s always interesting to see if perceptions align with reality. I’m wondering if the staffers who took these surveys are accurately gauging the importance of social media channels in understanding their constituent’s views and opinions. Here are the answers they had to select from. Which one is the BEST way to have dialogue with you? Are they accurately gauging the importance of social media platforms?

I believe social media creates a unique opportunity for politicians to reach larger audiences than they could before and further that it provides a mechanism to truly understand their constituents while opening a public dialogue on issues. However, I’m seeing more politicians use social media as another PR or marketing channel, rather than using it to open the floor for conversation and I think this is a missed opportunity. It is also slightly disheartening that for those who are using social media that “staffers” are running the channels and it’s unclear if the politicians have any involvement. There is a contingent of Americans that may not be actively engaging in political discussions, but would become more involved if the conversation was where they are. Throughout history politicians have tried to understand public opinion. Social media offers a tremendous platform for dialogue and education on issues. However, it’s clear there are still concerns over politicians ability to “control the message.” Politicians may not always agree with public opinion, but I believe it is their responsibility to listen and provide an open platform for the discussion.

What do you think? Is the Congressional Management Foundation’s survey an accurate reflection of the channels that are most important? Would you engage with your representative in social media channels? Do you think you would be more involved in politics if social media was used more often? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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About the Author

Nichole Kelly
Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole
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  • It’s a great avenue, although the question is, is it helping them make true to their promises and whatever conversation or dialogue you had shared with them in their social stream? It would be a pity if they only used it as a PR tool, hopefully we can see positive changes in the near future.

    • Sydney – I agree. I think part of the concern is that it opens the door for the public to hold politicians more accountable for what they say versus what they do. 

  • Politicians speaking to their constituents via twitter is a great avenue for a more open dialogue, but in this case it was a matter of HOW he was speaking to them – or rather, AT them. What could have been an engaging conversation via a series of hashtags unfortunately turned into twitter spam and thousands of unfollows. Mr. President and his team need to realize that it’s called social media for a reason; to be social, to be engaging, to respond to others, etc. More of my thoughts on this here: http://hmapr.com/?p=4592.

    • Kendra – Thanks for sharing! I agree, this was an example of a poorly executed social campaign. I was quite surprised as the Obama team tends to be much more sophisticated on a social media front than this campaign showed.

  • Politicians and government representatives need to understand, the days of teleprompters and speaking at constituents is in stark contrast to actually talking with them… especially when you’re considered hypocritical or seen as simply broadcasting!  Much like businesses make the mistake of grouping social media as just another broadcasting channel, #Obama (and others) need to step up their social game and become truly engaging, collaborative–rather than using these tools as another campaigning tool.  #CompromiseFailed

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  • I feel its a great way to get connected with people and get back any kind of views of any new developments…

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  • There’s this market research element to politics, where you can get an edge from grasping and riding the zeitgeist. On the other hand, politics has long had gentleman’s agreements that limit embarrassing situations – woe to the broadcaster who puts the President on the spot in an interview, for example. Generally access was used as a carrot and a stick.

    So in the new world of SM, in theory politicians can get a better idea of what voters want. For them, that’s balanced against the inconvenience of, as you say, losing their power to control the discussion.

    It’ll be very interesting to see how it pans out. My guess is, as you say, the older guys’ll try to use SM like the old media. That won’t work, so a new batch of SM-aware politicos could sweep them out.

  • None..they need to just stick to the TV and keep it as that..don’t come online and bother us.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    • LOL…interesting perspective! It’s kind of like when they interrupt your favorite TV show with a Presidential address. I wish they would put up a message and let me know it is on ANOTHER channel, but keep my program running. :-)


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