2014 in Social Media for politicians

No blog on Social Media would be complete this time of year without looking forward to next year. Indeed, there is no shortage of predictions on what Social Media 2014 will bring. Accordingly, here’s a glance at what politicians should pay attention to when it comes to Social Media in the new year.

1) Google+ will finally be a thing.  Google+ is the second highest most used Social Network, with over 540 million active monthly users.  This equates to over 5% of the world’s population.  In other words, Google+ is no longer for early adapters – it’s now hit the mainstream, and attention must be paid.  Do you have any sort of presence on Google+?  You probably should, soon.  What’s nice about Google+, at least from an elected officials perspective, is that it’s Circles  feature allows you to customize your content.  You can put your friends into different Circles based on their specific interests.  This way, you can customize posts to people based on what content they like.  It’s a neat feature and can help make your posts more relevant to your users.

2) Pictures and video will tell the story.  Somehow, the average Social Media’s attention span continues to shrink…people are reading less and using picture and video services more.  Instagram and Vine have seen tremendous growth this year, shifting attention to more services like these.  If you need ideas, here are some thoughts on how politicians can use Instagram, and we’ll have more on Vine later.

3) 55+ boom.  If you think Social Media is only for young people, you are insane.  Since 2012, the 55+ demographic has seen a growth rate of 79%+ on Twitter, 46% on Facebook and 54% on Google+.  Those numbers are incredible and attention must be paid.  So, from a governing and political perspective, ask yourself this: how are you appealing to this demographic?  Is your content geared appropriately in terms of issues you are discussing?  When advertising your constituent services, are you making sure that you discuss issues that are important to this older demographic?

Any thoughts to add?  Let us know in the comments…and have a VERY happy New Year!

Texas Congressmen nailed for altering Wikipedia pages

Wikipedia is an incredible free resource which has the admirable goal of crowdsourcing the world’s knowledge.  Studies dating back to 2005 have shown that Wikipedia is as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica, with more recent studies confirming those findings.

Naturally, having a crowdsourced encyclopedia can lead to problems, particularly when people try to edit entries to put themselves or their employers in a more favorable light.  Wikipedia policy bans editing entries related to your employer.  But, that didn’t stop the offices of eleven Congressmen in Texas.

A review conducted by the Dallas Morning News noted that aides in these offices had edited their boss’ entries to put them in a more favorable light:

Eleven members of the Texas delegation had potential flaws removed, controversies airbrushed and positive content peppered into their Wikipedia biographies by people who used a computer inside the U.S. House, a Dallas Morning News review shows.

Among the items removed were ethics complaints, fights with other Congressmen and moderating more controversial views.

As you can imagine, this is not the first time that a politician has gotten bad press over Wikipedia; indeed, Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to times in which politicians have violated Wikipedia’s guidelines and tried to edit their own pages.

This is a relatively minor scandal; though Wikipedia is the 6th most popular website in the world, edits on the site don’t usually make major news.  Still, it’s an unforced error.  There are plenty of ways in which a Wikipedia page could be edited without running afoul of Wikipedia policy.

Some scandals are silly.  This is one of them.  Don’t edit your own Wikipedia page from official computers.

Trash talking Washington State Senator calls Arizona a “desert racist wasteland”

Please note: anyone can fall victim to taking football trash talking too far. Including elected officials.

Last Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks in dramatic fashion, winning by scoring a touchdown with barely two minutes left in the game.  With the win, Arizona ended Seattle’s 14-game home win streak, while keeping their own playoff hopes alive.

Naturally, Seattle fans were upset. Some, however, took the situation a bit too far. Washington State Representative Joseph Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) sent out the following, angry tweet after the Seahawks’ defeat:

Joe Fitzgibbon Racist Tweet

Uhh…what.  Fitzgibbon deleted the tweet shortly after sending and clarified:

As you can imagine, Twitter users and Washington State Republicans bashed the tweet:

“My mom is there. All my siblings are there. My family is there. I grew up there. It is a great place to grow up,” said Keith Schipper, who also is the communications director the Washington State Republicans. “To call a multi-racial community like Arizona is racist and a wasteland is the height of intolerance, and disgusting, his holier than thou attitude is an embarrassment.”

The same article notes that the State Democratic Party Chair, Dwight Pelz, called the statement, “a bit harsh.”

Realizing his stupidity, Fitzgibbon apologized…twice.  The first apology, given in an AP interview, was pretty lame:  “If folks are going to take that too seriously, then I’m sorry about that.”  So, more or less, this apology was “Sorry that you are so sensitive.”  Right.  That was probably well received by no one.

The second apology, given in an interview with KING5 news, was far more comprehensive:

“Sometime I mix sports and politics too much in my own brain, and I made a point not very delicately,” he said. “That was not a kind thing to say, and I’m sorry for what I said. It wasn’t fair to most people in Arizona.”

He says he’s passionate about immigration, and policy reform, but admits trying to frame it in a sports context was not the best choice.

“I didn’t make that point well,” said the Burien Democrat.  “There are a couple of mistakes. I shouldn’t have mixed the two, shouldn’t have painted a broad brush, and Twitter is not always the best way to make points like that.  That’s the lesson I’ve learned.”

Gibbons also wrote a long, note on his Facebook page in which he apologized to his colleagues, constituents, Arizona and Seattle.

Forgetting the standard “don’t tweet stupid things” advice, check out the differnece between the apologies.  The first one was a further insult: sorry you people in Arizona have such thin skins.  The second one was far more comprehensive: here’s why I said what I said, but I understand it was wrong, and I apologize.  If you mess up, apologize unreservedly and whole-heartedly.  

British Politician uses racial slur and may face police investigation

By way of background: the term “pikey” is a racial slur, used in Britain, to describe people of lower socio-economic classes who travel, in no small part due to employment issues.  Also related to this story is the TV show “Dad’s Army,” which aired in Britain from 1968-1977.  The show featured a character named Colonial Pike.

And you can probably see where this is going.

Jack Dromey is a British shadow cabinet minister and member of the Labour party.  While on a visit to a Royal Mail constituency, Dromey sent out the following tweet:

Uh-oh.  Dromey’s response:

This might be the real explanation (indeed, the person pictured with Dromey says that Dromey is a “top bloke” and meant absolutely nothing racist), but that’s not the point: on Twitter, you never, ever say anything that can be interpreted as racist.  It’s just bad form and dumb, no matter what your intentions are.  In fact, in Britain, using the word Pikey is illegal and members of the opposing Tory party have requested a police investigation against Dromey!

Incidentially, this isn’t Dromey’s first run in with a Twitter gaffe; not even a month ago, Dromey accidentally favorited a tweet that contained gay porn, something he had also done in September.  Who the heck is this guy following anyway??

Maybe Dromey should just go away from Twitter.

Alaska holds vote to allow lawmakers to use Facebook on government computers

This happened back in late October, but I just caught it and thought it was worth mentioning: the Alaska Legislative Council (ALC) voted to allow lawmakers and some staffers to use Facebook from government computers, if they were conducting legislative business.

The ALC is a group of legislators that essentially manages legislative functions in terms of equipment, staff, mailings, etc (in Pennsylvania, we have the Bipartisan Management Committee).  Until now, legislators could not use government computers to manage their Facebook accounts.  The new rules allow them to do so, provided they are using it to manage their legislative presence.  Staff can use Facebook, but only if designated by legislative boss.

The debate lasted for over an hour and did have disagreement, but was ultimately passed:

Sen. Peter Micciche, a Republican from Soldotna, argued that seriously restricting Facebook would have been like banning e-mail twenty years ago.

“The world changes, and there’s a whole demographic of folks that I communicate with about legislative affairs and legislative issues and community meetings and committee meetings on Facebook that often don’t communicate in any other way,” said Micciche.

This is one of many tricky issues that politicians face in terms of dealing with Social Media.  Other issues include:

  • Constituent Service:  Yesterday, I got a request for a Property Tax/Rent Rebate for via a  Facebook message.  We are taking care of this request, of course, but tracking constituent work via Facebook is much more difficult than over standard channels (like Email, phone, etc).  Staff, and legislators, must be trained in how to communicate over these channels.
  • Social Media ads:  Most legislative bodies allow for legislators to send out taxpayer funded newsletters that discuss ways that each legislator can provide constituent service, provide information on happenings at the legislative level, etc.  Obviously, it costs money to create, design, print and mail these newsletters.  So, here’s an interesting question: what about Facebook ads that serve the same function?  After all, you can target Facebook ads by location, age, interests and more – part of the power of these ads is that they can be highly efficient and relevant to the users, and perhaps a more effective use of limited taxpayer dollars. 
  • Mobile devices:  Most legislators are given phones that they can use for legislative purposes.  Campaign purposes are a no-no.  But, can you use your personal Facebook or a legislative phone, provided no political business is conducted?  How can you enforce such a policy?

Clear ground rules are critical for the protection of the taxpayers and legislators themselves.  I was glad to read that Alaska is taking steps to modernize and clarify their Social Media policies; every legislature, and really, every business, should do the same.

State Senator Robert Rucho (R-NC) compares Obamacare to Nazis

Obamacare’s troubled rollout has certainly given the President and fellow Democrats its share of grief, with polls numbers showing that a majority disapprove of Obama’s performance as President.  However, polls still show that the public is optimistic that the law can be fixed.

It makes sense, then, to think that the law is more popular than Nazism.

Tell that to North Carolina Senator Robert Rucho, who tweeted:

Rucho’s initial defense:

So, will Rucho apologize?  He says no:

I believe without any reservation that it’s true. I’m not going to back away from it, because I got every right to say what I want to say too. If people took it out of context and wrong, nothing I can do about that.

This defiance comes in the face of calls for his resignation from the North Carolina Democratic Party.  The calls were echoed by a Holocaust survivor…and if you have a Holocaust survivor calling for your resignation…well, that’s just never good. Senator Rucho couldn’t even find support from his own party, who said that Rucho should apologize.

Naturally, Rucho isn’t the first person to make an outrageous comparison regarding Obamacare.  Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) compared it to the apartheid, Dr. Ben Carson compared it to slavery and former Congressman Allen West (R-FL) compared it to a World War II battle.

In all fairness, some of the crazier members of the political left are guilty of inappropriately using Nazi comparisons as well; for a depressing look at the truth behind that statement, just visit Google Images and search for “Bush Nazi.” 

Just a crazy thought…maybe we can skip calling things Nazis, unless we are referring to, you know, actual Nazis?