If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I come at the idea of elected officials using Social Media as somewhat of an evangelist. Indeed, in conversations with other, more reluctant elected officials, I find myself often frustrated at my inability to gain a new convert. I’m coming to realize something: I truly believe that Social Media has evolved to the point that requires elected officials to use it, and to use it well.
1) We have to be where our constituents are: In the course of doing a Facebook ad, I came to this astounding conclusion: over 100,000 people over the age of 18 live in the 18104 zip code, a zip code which I serve (though not entirely). That number is massive. As an elected official, our goal needs to be to go where are constituents are, both to hear their complaints and to allow them to hear from us. Clearly, they are here!
2) Access: I cannot keep track of the amount of times I have heard that normal people don’t have access to electeds, but lobbyists do. Does Social Media make up for the ability that lobbyists can bring to the table when it comes to relationship building with elected officials? Of course not. But Social Media does make a more level playing field. Do I speak with lobbyists in Harrisburg? Of course. Lobbyists are not evil caricatures running around with sacks filled with money: most of the time, they are highly ethical government relations professionals who are knowledgeable in their field and represent the interests of their employer. Now, that being said, what if you can cut out the middle man and go directly to the people that a lobbyist is supposed to represent? Let me say that again: What if you can skip right past the faulty model of pluralism and jump directly to the people? That’s what Social Media enables an elected official to do. Indeed, I make the argument that a good elected official should spend more time talking to real people than lobbyists, and that includes conversations on Social Media. Social Media gives the people access to an elected…in other words, enables democracy to happen.
3) Delegate vs. Trustee: There is a constant tension between two different types of legislative representation models. In the delegate model, elected officials should be a conduit for the will of the people; in the trustee model, elected officials are supposed to act in what they believe to be the best interests of their constituents, even if the beliefs of that elected official contrast with popular opinion. The Social Media connection here is obvious. In the delegate model, Social Media enables electeds to get a better view of the opinion of the people (of course, it also further enables a common problem in democracies – that the loudest voice gets the most attention – but that is just a risk we take). In the trustee model, the connection is a little more difficult to see, but it’s still there: Social Media exposes the elected official to different arguments, evidence and facts that he or she may not have heard before. As such, it can help that elected make a more informed decision.
I feel like my college professors would have been proud of this blog entry…but what do you think? Let me know in the comments!