Why elected officials should be using throwback Thursday

If you are on social media, every Thursday, your feed likely fills up with posts of your Facebook friends from decades ago.  This is for #tbt or #throwbackthursday.  The trend has been around for at least a couple of years and involves people posting old pictures of themselves – usually with an explanation of the story behind the picture.  Social media tends to be obsessed with the present and what’s happening right now, so I’ve always loved #tbt – it breaks the mold and gives you a better idea of the story behind your friends.  Instead of just hearing about who they are, you get to learn more about how they got there.  This, of course, can give you a much better understanding of people who are close with and care about – and this is one of the best uses of social media.

I’ve started seeing more and more elected officials using #tbt, and I think this is a great thing.  There are some reasons not to participate as an elected official – the pictures can be so personal, ridiculous looking, or otherwise embarrassing.  Obviously there are limits on just what you should be uploading – posting pictures of yourself at certain college parties, for example, is a terrible, terrible idea. That being said, within limits, participating in #tbt is a great thing.  Here’s why:

  • The best of social media:  We can all think of a million examples of the worst of social media, the things that drive us nuts – people vaguely complaining about individuals close to them, people who overshare, the guy that won’t stop posting Candy Crush updates, etc.  Social media can be a pain.  But, at its core, social media contains a brilliant premise – it lets you get closer to people who you care about.  #tbt is perfect for this.  You get to see an intimate part of someone’s past and have a better understanding of how they got to where they are today.  As a politician, you should be about sharing your story and telling people who you are.  If they have a better idea of your past, of your personal history, that’s a great thing – as long as it is information you want to share!
  • Personalizes who you are:  Too many people know politicians by their press releases and media appearances, and in those, we tend to look like friendly, professional robots.  Voters prefer to know that their politicians are “one of us” – real humans with a real past.  #tbt gives elected officials a chance to prove just that – like every human ever, we looked silly when we were younger, we had fun, we were goofy, etc.  Some believe that elected officials look better when their image is nice and polished.  I disagree, and #tbt gives me an opportunity to show my constituents not only who I am, but who I was.

Agree or disagree?  Let me know in the comments!

Look before you leap: Mayor of Maricopa, AZ accidentally praises Fred Phelps

Have you ever read an article too fast, then commented on it, only to realize that you said something absurdly inaccurate?  Yeah, don’t do that.  Here’s why.

Ed Farrell is the Mayor of Maricopa, Arizona.  Maricopa is the 19th largest city in the state, with a population of about 45,000.  On Monday, Farrell posted on the death of Phelps, saying, “We need more Fred Phelps in this world. May you rest in peace sir.”

Oh no.

For the record, Farrell is not a terrible human being – he just made a very bad mistake.  In a comment to his hometown newspaper, Farrell said that he thought Phelps was just a Kansas based minister and had no idea of his affiliation to the Westboro Baptist Church.  Farrell said that he “shamed himself” and didn’t realize that the article he posted about Phelps’ death was a fake one anyway.

There are a few lessons here.  The first one is obvious: be careful with what you post and make sure that the content you are posting from his legit.  There are entire websites dedicated to people who have mistaken The Onion for real news.  It’s a common mistake, but make sure that if you are going to post anything as an elected official, you can verify that the information is real – or at least not satire!  Second, and related: read whatever you post first.  Take the extra minute to spare yourself the embarrassment.

To respond to trolls, or not respond? That is the question….

I caught an interesting exchange on Twitter the other day, and it had me thinking.  The conversation in question came between Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Mittsunderpants (lovely racist reference to Mormon undergarments right there).  Mittsunderpants tweeted the Congressman a pretty nasty tweet – and Congressman Rohrabacher responded:

Congressman Rohrabacher Troll

Interestingly enough, the tweet was deleted by Rohrabacher and is no longer visable on his page.  I actually think the tweet was appropriate – if done for the right reasons.

To further illuminate my point, a personal example.  The other day, my legislative account sent out this tweet:

And got this wacky response:

What?  Just…what?  Anyway, it would have been very easy for me to retweet that tweet and issue a nasty response…something along the lines of, “Hey, you sexist jerk, do you think women should be barefoot, pregnant and cooking?  That sure is what it sounds like.”

I chose not to, because that isn’t my style.  I like being quirky and funny at times, but also professional.  I don’t want anyone to think that I regularly engage with trolls – I want to be above that.  And that was the path I chose.  Congressman Rohrabacher, at least temporarily, chose a different path.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that path if it fits your image.  That, of course, goes back to knowing what your social media goals and objectives are – and this, in general, shows why everyone needs a social media plan.

What do you think?  Do I have it right?  Let me know in the comments!

Making a social media plan as an elected official

In yesterday’s entry, I discussed the importance of making sure that you use social media platforms that will enable you to hit the majority of your constituents.  To adequately figure out who you are targeting and what you need to say, you need to have some sort of social media plan.  Some people go through the steps of formally designing one (highly recommended, as answering all of these questions specifically really makes you think), while others just have a plan in their head.  If you are looking to go the formal, written route, here is a step-by-step process for any elected official:

1) What resources are at your disposal?  Specifically, three types:

  • Time: Do you have the staff time at your disposal?  Do NOT rely on an intern – interns come and go and aren’t as interested in your office, and your career, as a staffer.  They also lack adequate training.
  • Money:  If you are looking to do a paid campaign, do you have the money for it?  Can you afford to hire someone – even a consultant – on a part-time basis?
  • Tech: Most government offices have computers now, but what about phones?  Do you have a smart phone that has adequate capacity to manage social networking?

2) What are others in similar situations doing right – and what are they doing wrong?  Do your research and check out similar political pages.  Take note of what platforms they are using?  What types of content are they posting?  What is their tone?  The frequency with which they post?  Make sure you learn from these pages – take note of the things that are going right and wrong.

3) Who is your audience?  This isn’t necessarily what your district is.  There are some parts of your district that you will likely not be able to connect with via social media.  So, who IS in your district?  Who do you have the most to offer to, and what can you say?

4) What are your objectives?  What are you trying to advertise?  Constituent service and programs?  Policy positions?  Bipartisanship?  Your brand of ideology?  Whatever you pick, make it specific, because the content you post will flow from these answers.

5) How can you measure success?  Be specific here – what would be a “win”for you when it comes to your social media use?  More friends?  Conversations?  More website hits?  Whatever you define success is, make sure you have a metric by which you can track it.

6) What kind of content can you create?  I’d say this is the most important part, because really, the five questions above all lead to the types of content you post.  Based on your resources, research, audience and objectives, what do you have to say?

7) How often are you going to reevaluate?  Even the best plan needs updating.  Make sure that, at a set interval, you evaluate your social media plan and update it as your goals and needs shift.

It’s obviously more in-depth and time intensive than this, but the questions above can help you create a good social media plan that, if executed properly, will allow you to better connected with your constituents.

What do you think?  Did we miss anything?  Let us know in the comments!

Demographic targeting and social media

If you are an elected official that is just using Facebook as your sole social media outreach, that’s not necessarily a bad thing: it may be all that you have time for or the only place that you feel technologically comfortable.  If this is a conscious decision, and you feel that you have no alternative, no problem.  Having a presence on one platform alone isn’t the end of the world.

But you can do better.  And you should.

A quick look at some demographic facts about the various social media platforms out there:

What’s the point of all this?  Go back, for a moment, to the basic premise of this blog: I believe that elected officials have a moral obligation to use social media, because an informed citizenry is required for an informed democracy.  If you accept that this premise is true, then it requires that you use whatever social networks are most appropriate to your constituents.  My constituency, for example, is a very slim plurality Hispanic, followed by whites, followed by African-Americans.  This would, it seems, validate my office’s strategy of heavily using Twitter in addition to Facebook.  For a district that was largely white and older, a Facebook-heavy approach would be a better way to spend limited time and resources.

A one-size-fits-all strategy doesn’t work for social media usage.  You have to go where the people are, and go where your district is.  If you are going to use social media, make sure that you take the time to develop a Social Media plan that determines who you are targeting and how you can reach them.

Scary: Turkey blocks Twitter

First, the background:  Turkey recently passed laws that gave the country greater control over the internet.  Turkish citizens responded by unfollowing the Prime Minister.

That brings us to the current day situation, in which the government is using those controls to censor the internet.  Prime Minister Erdoğan threatened to “wipe out” Twitter because it was being used to expose government corruption.  Specifically, Twitter was being used to leak wiretapped recordings. Then, a few days ago, Turkey began to block Twitter users from accessing the platform within the country, all while threatening to block further social networks if attacks on the government continued.

As a result, #TwitterisblockedinTurkey became a top trend globally.  Twitter did not issue an official statement responding, but did use their @policy account to offer users assistance and support in using Twitter:

However, blocking the internet is never easy and frequently impossible.  Turkish users used Google’s DNS service as a workaround to access the internet.  Messages like this began to appear throughout Turkey:


People got the message, and tweets sent from within Turkey actually increased compared to before the ban.  Naturally, this encouraged additional crackdowns, as Turkey initiated further bans designed at keeping more people off the internet by blocking the Google DNS.  That block remains in effect as I write this entry.

The White House has made a statement on the censorship of Twitter via a statement: 

The United States is deeply concerned that the Turkish government has blocked its citizens’ access to basic communication tools. We oppose this restriction on the Turkish people’s access to information, which undermines their ability to exercise freedoms of expression and association and runs contrary to the principles of open governance that are critical to democratic governance and the universal rights that the United States stands for around the world. We have conveyed our serious concern to the Turkish government, urge Turkish authorities to respect the freedom of the press by permitting the independent and unfettered operation of media of all kinds, and support the people of Turkey in their calls to restore full access to the blocked technologies.

This story will likely continue to unfold and speaks volumes about how necessary Twitter, and social media, have become to the spread of information and the undermining of government corruption.

How elected officials can get more engagement on social media

Engagement is the name of the game when it comes to an elected official using social media.  Sure, having large numbers of followers is nice, but at the end of the day, if people aren’t reading what you type, it’s kind of useless.  By building engagement with constituents, elected officials can guarantee that their message is being heard.  More to the point, engagement helps you build followers, increasing your message’s overall reach.

So, how do you actually build that level of engagement?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Ask for it:  It may sound simple, but if you don’t ask for engagement, you won’t get it.  Directly ask for someone’s opinions on an issue, and odds are, you’ll get them.  Just be careful what you wish for.  Don’t ask for someone’s opinion and then get annoyed when they give you one you disagree with.
  • Ask questions:  This is in line with the item above – ask questions and you will get answers.  This, again, is a specific, direct way of seeking to build engagement.
  • Don’t just post vanilla:  Posting press releases and other official sounding tweets certainly have their place, but they get real boring, real quickly.  Most of the time, a press release won’t be heavily shared or linked to.  You have to post more than just vanilla to build engagement.
  • Controversy:  This is the converse of the above point – building engagement, and getting your content shared, frequently comes down to posting information that is interesting enough to be shared and responded to.  This can mean controversial items.  In my approximately five or so years in elected office, the item that I posted that got the most responses and shares was a note I wrote to people who asked me to oppose gay marriage.  being active on social media frequently means not be afraid of a fight.  Controversial posts will get you engagement.  Just make sure you are ready to deal with the controversy, and of course, make sure not to go overboard.
  • Time it right: One of the things we found with my elected official Facebook page is that posts at a certain time of day tended to get more response then others. To test what times work best for you (and they will work differently for everyone, depending on the demographic of your posts, content, etc), make a broad array of posts and see what times get you the best response.  Go from there.

Anything else you want to add?  As always, let us know in the comments!