Just how similar are the private and public sector when it comes to social media?


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I’ve been very lucky in my life.  Prior to my election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2012, I worked for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.  In my five years there, I worked in a variety of capacities, but spent my last 2.5 years working in sales and social media.  That was a fantastic experience.  The Chamber is, of course, a privately funded organization that exists only as long as its members believe they are getting enough value that they are willing to pay for dues, event attendance and sponsorships.

In 2009, I was elected to Allentown City Council, but that was a part-time public sector job.  I only went full time into the public sector with my election to the House.  Are there differences in the environment in the two universes?  Of course.  I found that many in the private sector frequently look down their nose at the public sector, thinking that public sector employees aren’t as energetic, entrepreneurial or dedicated as their private sector counterparts.  That, by and large, is complete nonsense, and that’s a specific comparison I want to talk about in today’s entry: the similarities between social media use in the private and public sectors, at least from a best case scenario.

Both have an obsession with customer service
I think that the best way that government can prove its usefulness when it comes to social media is by providing customer service and passing along information about various government programs and their use.  Similarly, most of the best social media stories involving businesses have to do with the private sector.

Both struggle for relevancy…but this is harder with the public sector
If you’ve ever read this blog before, you’ve heard me discuss “value added content” – in other words, content that provides something extra to the life of the person consuming it, and isn’t just a sales or campaign pitch.  To that end, both the private and public sector struggle to ensure that the content they provide is useful and relevant to the consumer.  For the private sector, this is difficult but not impossible: providing information about preferred products and services is frequently enough for the average consumer to want to like a page.  This is harder in the public sector, however; if a government has no relevant information to provide, as is sometimes the case, there is no reason for a consumer to like a page or follow an account.

Appropriate policies are vital
This blog contains dozens of stories of social media gone wrong.  Most of these are in the public sector, but many are private businesses.  The public sector tends to get a stricter rap as being heavy on bureaucracy, but as anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world will tell you, large organizations have their share of policies and procedures as well.  To that end, having appropriate social media policies (what to say, what never to say, how to respond to a complaint, etc) are vital for both worlds.  Not having these systems in place can only lead to a disaster.

The cover up is worse than the scandal
My experience with social media disasters is that it’s the part that occurs AFTER the screw-up – the attempts at cover-ups, lousy excuses, lack of reaction, etc – that are worse than the fail itself.  I truly believe that most people are forgiving and will let an occasional error go, provided that attempts to make amends are genuine.  This occurs in both the public and private sector – the handling of a social media snafu should be very similar.

What do you think – anything else you’d like to add?  Let me know in the comments!

How an elected official can best take advantage of Twitter Lists


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Twitter lists are a fantastic, if underutilized tool.  In a nutshell, you can use them to organize other Twitter users into categories of your choosing.  You can then publicize those lists, or keep them private, and follow the public lists that other people publish as well.  These lists appear in a separate feed than your main feed. Additionally, on most Twitter clients, like Hootsuite, you can customize your channel so that you can view lists that you (or others) create.

I’ve come to the conclusion that you can really use these list functions to make Twitter work better for you as an elected official.  Here are a few thoughts:

Create a series of public lists, and announce when you have created them:

Social media use is all about creating useful, value-added content, right?  Well, what better way to give a value added experience on social media than by providing people with free and useful social media resources?  Some examples of potential lists you can create include:

  • Other local elected officials
  • Fellow members of your particular caucus
  • Local reporters
  • Local news agencies
  • Local non-profits

Also useful to note is that each list than has it’s own separate URL, so you can actually publicize the link for others to follow.  For example, I’m a member of a list titled “PA General Assembly,” which can be found at this address: https://twitter.com/JamesCookUMA/lists/pa-general-assembly.  You can post such a list on Twitter, but also on Facebook and your website.

For your own sanity: Create private lists that can be useful from an organizational perspective

One really useful list that you can create, and keep private (simply because there is no gain in publicizing such a list) is a list of your constituents.  This way, you can see what they are talking about.  Creating such a list, and checking that list on a regular basis, will ensure that you give your constituents who are active in social media the extra attention that they deserve.

The one functionality that Twitter lists like, particularly when compared to Facebook Lists, is that you cannot send a tweet to a specific list – its either all, one (direct message) or none.  I do hope that this function gets added later.

What do you think – did I miss anything?  Let me know in the comments!


Can an elected official use LinkedIn with any success?


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LinkedIn LogoIf you asked me which social network I used the least (well, second to least, since I barely use Google+), the answer would be LinkedIn.  Part of this is because I’ve always felt LinkedIn was more like a resume and Rolodex on steroids, and I questioned it’s real world use.  I haven’t changed my mind about that, but as I’ve gotten more into social media I’ve tried to make myself give LinkedIn a second look.  After all, it does have more than 300 million members, about 100 million of whom are in the United States, and has tallied an impressive 5.7 billion searches on its website.

So, that being said, here’s my question: Can LinkedIn be used by elected officials?  Yes, I think so.

Professional development
I was involved sales in my previous career, in addition to social media, and I never really used LinkedIn for these purposes; it just always seemed to overt.  I preferred the value-added approach that Facebook, Twitter and blogging provided.  That being said, I did get a great deal out of the various professional development groups that I belonged to, including groups that were oriented around sales, social media or Chamber of Commerce employees.  There are many similar groups out there for elected officials that focus on topics you may be interested in, like economic development or education.  Joining those groups can give you insight into trends in these areas, as well as access to a network of experts that you can use to ask questions about policy and politics.

Local outreach
Following local businesses and connecting with executives can give you a great chance to increase your local outreach.  Those connections are possible on different mediums, but there are still plenty of people out there who only use social media for work – and those people are going to be on LinkedIn. To that end, using LinkedIn gives you a chance to connect with people that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise.

Business connections
During my time working for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce, I found that there were dozens of local business groups that were dedicated towards networking and event promotion.  The value of many of these groups is questionable at best (all they did was spam each other), but many of these groups were helpful in keeping track of the pulse of the local business community.  To that end, joining these groups is a great way of monitoring what’s happening in your business sector.

…but, it’s a question of resources
You only have so much time in a day, and as I’ve argued before, it is possible for an elected official to use social media too much.  To that end, you can get more of a bang for your buck on other networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  So, my recommendation is this: use LinkedIn sparingly, if at all.

Agree or disagree?  Give us your thoughts in the comments!

Pro-tip: Don’t tweet about parties/school board meetings while there are riots in the streets


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A White House official and the Governor of Missouri both committed a relatively serious Twitter sin while Ferguson rioted last week: they tweeted about other items that were far more trivial.  This was a great lesson in Twitter focus.

First, and more serious, was Governor Nixon of Missouri.  August 13 was arguably one of the worst days for Ferguson, as protesters were met with tear gas and an over-aggressive police response and reporters were arrested, turning the streets of the city into a war zone that resembled something in the Middle East, rather than middle America.  That day, Governor Nixon was the Missouri Fair.  That night, he sent out these two tweets:



From that point on, every tweet sent by the Governor has dealt with Ferguson, but the damage had been done.  With the Governor discussing anything other than Ferguson while the situation was at its peak, it is difficult to overcome the notion that he has been disengaged and not appropriately dealing with the issue.  The Governor’s Twitter feed has been symptomatic of this problem.

Less publicized has been the fact that the same night, the President attended a party on Martha’s Vineyard.  The party was happening literally during the riots, and during that time, Eric Schultz, spokesperson for the White House, sent out this tweet:

He forgot to add the hashtag #TerribleIdea, and the tweet was attacked for being insensitive to the ongoing violence in Ferguson.

There is a lesson here for all Twitter users and elected officials: You need to be very careful with what you discuss during an ongoing crisis.  Context and location is critical.  Would a Pennsylvania or California elected official have been criticized for discussing non-Ferguson related items on social media during this time?  No, probably not, or at least not fairly.  A national crisis would have been a different story, but a crisis in another state is not necessarily something that should have dominated all of your tweets.

However, for Missouri or national leaders, the situation is dramatically different. The tweet by Governor Nixon seemed to show total indifference to the ongoing violence, while the tweet by Eric Schultz seemed to prove the idea that the White House was disconnected from reality.

The lesson is this: You simply have to pay attention to the outside world when you use Twitter and social media.  The vast majority of the time, you can tweet about any subject that you choose.  However, in times of local, domestic or international crisis, you need to limit your social media use to the ongoing crisis.  Judgement is key, and I think poor judgement was exercised by both Governor Nixon and Eric Schultz in these instances.

Missouri State Senator tweets Missouri Governor: “F–K you!”


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Since last week, Ferguson, Missouri has been embroiled in one tragedy after another.  It started on August 9, when Ferguson officer Darren Wilson shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, after a confrontation that began because Brown and another friend were allegedly blocking traffic.  Brown was also a robbery suspect at the time of the shooting.

The situation devolved to violence, which has included looting and a dramatically over-aggressive police response. The situation calmed somewhat when state police took over for locals, but remains highly volatile.

Among those criticized has been Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D).  It took three days until after the shooting before the Governor made his first public remarks on the subject, four days before he began cancelling public appearances and five days before he sent out his first tweets.

It is those tweets that provoked a stunningly angry reaction from Missouri State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who is also a Democrat and represents Ferguson.  The Senator had been publicly critical of Governor Nixon.  She was photographed at a Ferguson rally holding this picture of Nixon:


Senator Chappelle-Nadal also went on MSNBC, where she called the Governor a “coward,” saying that the Governor “has been absent from the minority community, not for a few years, but for a few decades, and this is inexcusable.”  It’s worth noting that Senator Chappelle-Nadal has been highly involved in the situation and was tear gassed during the some of the protests.

However, the Senator’s harshest criticisms came on Twitter.  This past Thursday, the Governor tweeted a series of remarks about Ferguson. To that, Senator Chappelle-Nadal responded with this:


The tweets have since been deleted, though the Senator refers to them in other tweets that are still on her timeline.

As of yet, there has been no retraction from Senator Nadal and no comment from the Governor, that I can find, on this incident.  Other outlets reported that Nadal and Nixon have had problems before.  That being said, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen this level of hostility directed at a sitting Governor by another elected official, to say nothing of the fact that both are members of the same party.


Ways elected officials can maximize Instagram


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Instagram LogoInstagram is rapidly rising through the social media world.  More than 75 million people use Instagram on a daily basis, with more than 60 million photos uploaded every day.  It’s users tend to trend towards the younger end of the demographic spectrum, which means that the service has plenty of room to grow and will become more and more ingrained in daily life as its younger users grow and become a heavier part of the economy. Most elected officials who use Instagram do so in an effort to show where they are and what they are doing.  That’s a totally acceptable way of using the service, but I think there is more that can be done.  So, to that end, here are a few tips on getting the most out of your Instagram use: Make it different The selfie and pictures from press conferences is all well and good, but that’s a pretty common photo on Instagram.  To break through the clutter, your pictures need to be different and unique.  How can you do that?

  • Download an app that combines your photos into multiple ones.
  • Photos with a written message on them.

Use it to make announcements Instagram photos for announcements can be effective because, again, they are different.  Take pictures of locations or messages and upload them, with a more in-depth explanation of whatever you are announcing in the caption.  Remember, however, that if you automatically integrate Instagram with Twitter, you have to keep the caption under 140 characters or the text will cut off. Use local hashtags Hashtags are widely used on Instagram and can be a great way of expanding your reach and breaking out of your traditional circle.  To that end, make sure that you use appropriate local hashtags, like with your municipalites’ name.  Again, it’s local hashtags that are key – after all, you want to connect with people in your jurisdiction, so using a broader hashtag won’t have much real-world effect. Constituent-centered As social media pushes its users towards vastly increased levels of narcissism, elected officials have to make sure to use the medium to be other-centered, not self-centered.  To that end, don’t overdo it with selfies or showing events that you are at.  Use Instagram to take pictures with constituents or of local organizations that are doing good in the community.  For someone in a public role, that’s a much more effective use of this medium. Any other tips to add?  What did I miss?  Let me know in the comments!

Marion Barry, former D.C. Mayor and current Counicl member, retracts anti-police tweets


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Marion Barry is one of the most legendary and notorious figures in modern American politics.  Barry served as a Washington, D.C. Councilman, then Mayor from 1979-1991.  It was during Barry’s third term that he was infamously arrested for crack use and possession, which also inspired one of the most infamous utterances in the history of American politics.  Barry served time in prison before being reelected to Council, then Mayor, and then Council again.

Councilman Barry is on Twitter, and recent became controversial once again after a tweet that attacked the city’s police department.  Barry was involved in a car accident two weeks ago, when he crashed his car after “taking medication on an empty stomach.”  On Twitter, he said:

This was all relatively standard stuff.  But the entire incident took a turn for the weird when Barry sent out this tweet:

So instead of protecting people, I’m advised that @DCPoliceDept called news media to come film my hypoglycemic attack & accident? Sad.

This tweet was sent out on August 4, but deleted the same day.  Councilman Barry retracted the tweets, saying:

What really happened here?  Who knows.  I will say that earlier tweet’s on Barry’s account did indicate that others tweeted on his behalf, with tweets from the account saying things like “MB’s tweet team” and referring to “our Councilmember.” It is absolutely possible that a member of Barry’s communication’s team got fired up over a perceived or real slight by police, then sent out an ill-advised tweet.

Here are the takeaways on this, as far as I am concerned:

1) Make sure your team knows conduct that is and is not acceptable on social media.  For the sake of leaving things as clear as possible, as well as covering yourself in the event that something goes wrong, a written policy is absolutely preferable.

2) Keep a consistent voice.  Other tweets on Barry’s account sound like they are coming from him directly, which would contrast with tweets which make it clear that they are authored by team members, not Barry himself.  There is a way to jointly manage an account like this: Just add “Tweets from Councilman Barry are signed -MB.” Consistency and transparency are key on social media.

Anything else to add?  Let us know in the comments!  And, since I haven’t plugged it in a while – make sure you sign up for the Email list, which reviews trends in social media gives useful info and tips on how you can improve your social media presence.  All info, no sales, I swear!

Minnesota Republican official uses the suicide of Robin Williams to promote candidate for Governor


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Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before some political figure did something stupid on social media in relation to the tragic suicide of Robin Williams.

Chris Fields is the Deputy Chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party.  He previously ran for Congress against Democrat Keith Ellison, a race Ellison won with 74% of the vote.

In the aftermath of Williams’ suicide, Ellen Anderson, an employee of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, sent out this tweet:

To which, astoundingly, Fields responded with this (now deleted) tweet:

.@ellencanderson how very 80’s. Want an economy like we had in 80’s under Reagan…Vote @Jeff4Gov tomorrow in the primary

Yes, that’s right, Fields used the death of Robin Williams to promote the Republican-endorsed candidate for Governor, Jeff Johnson.  Somehow, I don’t think this is the kind of campaigning that Johnson is looking for, but more on that later.

Naturally, Twitter blew up attacking Fields, who proceed to respond to his critics.  At least one State Representative, Carly Melin, opened up on Fields:

Fields responded to this tweet with more politics:

.@carlymelin Really?? You gripe they don’t pay their fair share and then ur somehow adversely affected by their passing? @ellencanderson

And then he kept going.  Additional tweets included, but are not limited to, the following:

  • .@Salencita I’m more concerned abt kids that don’t have a future than abt ur pretend grief for someone u didn’t know @ellencanderson #mndfl
  • .@DJDanielson @ellencanderson Yes! Bcuz real ppl who dont have millions are crushed by the policies of guilt ridden celebrity above all libs
  • .@JonHoffmannMN Bcuz ppl who place celebrity above all don’t want their world interrupted by the fact that they actually hurt real ppl?
  • It’s curious to me why ppl mourn the loss of celebrities but ignore the misery everyday ppl live with as policies crush hope and opportunity

As I said above, Fields has since deleted all of his tweets, but they were captured by multiple media sources.

As usual, it should come as no surprise that Chris Fields seems to regularly invite controversy.  As noted by Raw Story, Fields had repeatedly engendered controversy.  Examples include:

  • When the Chisago County Republican Party made a Facebook post comparing abortion to slavery, and he refused to condemn it (an incident which I previously covered on this blog).
  • When he implied that hip hop music was at least partially responsible for the death of Trayvon Martin.

By the way, Jeff Johnson unequestionably condemned Fields’ tweets:

I’d give you the lesson here, but really, no sane person would have a problem figuring it out.  Fields’ use of the suicide of a beloved actor to make a political point is beyond reprehensible.  Some things shouldn’t be politicized.  Can’t this be one of them?

Oh, and when you screw up, as Fields clearly did here, apologize, and don’t dig deeper.  This won’t be forgotten.

Housing Authority Board Chair on protesters: “Gee, They are all black…”


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In North Carolina, the Board Chair of a the Rowan County Housing Authority has been cleared of acting in any discriminatory way, despite racist Facebook posts.

Here’s what happened:  In North Carolina, Moral Monday protests have been occurring since 2012, in protest of a number of laws passed by Republicans who control the state’s government.   Malcolm “Mac” Butner is the board chair of the Rowan County Housing Authority.  After seeing a picture of Moral Monday protests, Butner commented:


This, incidentally, was the tip of the iceberg for Butner’s controversial posts.  He also used Facebook to attack liberals, Hillary Clinton, illegal immigrants and advocate for “fighting again and rid[ing] us of these damn Yankee invaders,” complete with a picture of the Confederate flag.

Butner has since deleted his Facebook page.

Naturally, the post was met with protests by many.  The NAACP called for his resignation, attacking the comments as “deplorable and discriminative.”  Butner’s response was that his posts weren’t based on racism, but on his “conservative principles.”  Side note: That’s offensive to me, on behalf of conservatives, and I’m pretty progressive. All but a very, very small minority of conservative’s I know are not racist, and these comments clearly are – Butner’s comments unfairly malign conservatives.

Butner also accused his opponents of running a “political smear campaign,” saying:

I’m the target of a political smear campaign by those who wished to derail my signature gathering to get on the ballot to run for Rowan County Commissioner. It’s absurd–everybody who knows me, knows I’m not prejudiced.  I’m an ardent supporter of Dr. Ben Carson and believe he would make a fine president.   Think the world of Bill Cosby.  Often quote one of our greatest conservatives Thomas Sowell. Everybody I know has heard me tout Thelma Lucky’s Restaurant at the Mall.  As for women I have great admiration for them.

Anyway, last month, Rowan County Commissioner’s voted to begin an internal investigation to determine if Butner had acted in a discriminatory way as board chair of the housing authority.  The results are in, and according to the investigation, the answer is no.  According to the Chairman of the Rowan Board of Commissioners, Jim Sides, “That investigation substantiated that Mac did absolutely nothing against the law, that he violated no one’s civil rights.”

In his capacity as board chair of a public housing agency, Butner held a quasi-public office, which made his comments fair game.  He clearly showed disdain for African-Americans and made comments that could easily be viewed as racist. The broader lesson here is that social media posts can come back to bite you if you hold any sort of public office, even if it’s only a volunteer board chair.

Any thoughts to add?  Let me know in the comments!

Federal prosecutor blames sleep drugs for making online comments


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I’ve previously written about the case of Arkansas Judge Michael Maggio, who was found to have made anonymous online comments about cases he was presiding over.  When I first saw the headline “Ex-Prosecutor Blames Drug in Posting Scandal,” I thought I was looking at a story of the Maggio case.

I wasn’t.

This is an entirely different instance that deals with the latest developments in the case former Federal prosecutor Sal Perricone.  In 2013, Perricone was accused of being an online commenter on NOLA.com postings.  In those postings, “Henry L. Mencken1951″ would attack the targets of federal investigations.  No one paid much attention to the posts, until an internal investigation revealed that Perricone was, in fact, Henry L. Mencken1951.  As a result of that allegation, among others, a U.S. District judge ordered a new trial for five New Orleans police officers who were involved in a police shooting, and subsequent cover-up, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Further investigation revealed that a second prosecutor in the office, Jan Mann, was also the author of online comments.

An order signed by a U.S. District Judge revoked the right of Perricone and Mann to practice in Louisiana’s Middle District.  Mann has also been barred from appearing in front of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Both may still practice law elsewhere, barring further disciplinary action.

All of this brings us to today.  While Jan Mann has not (as of yet) appealed the ban that stops her from practicing law in Louisiana’s Middle District, Sal Perricone has.  He essentially makes two arguments:

  • He cannot remember making the online comments because of a prescription drug he was taking for sleep: “As embarrassing as it is, I do not remember making many of the comments ascribed to me. The effects of the drug I was taking (seem) to have had a somnambulant effect on me.”
  • He thought, at the time, that the comments he was making were protected by the first amendment.

I am not a lawyer, so I cannot comment on whether or not the arguments Perricone makes will hold water.  I will say, however, that the comments were sheer idiocy.  Regardless of their legality, they have certainly destroyed Perricone’s career, by his own admission:

My career was shattered, and my life changed. Today, I’m trying to rebuild my life.

The lesson?  Anonymous comments are just never worth it.



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