Townhall Meeting

We are all in the media business

I just read this fantastic article on Social Media today.  The article discusses the need for businesses to essentially become their own media companies and produce their own content, to be told in a story format.  As an elected official, this rang true for me on multiple levels, which I’d like to discuss below.  However, if you read nothing else, please understand this when it comes to social media use: You must tell stories and create your own content.

The decline of traditional media

I’ve noticed it as an elected official, and most people who pay attention have noticed it as well – traditional media focuses less on local politics.  Print media is declining  and people are relying more and more on social media to get their news.  What’s the end result of this media shift?

Everyone is a reporter

Thanks to our phones and social networks, everyone can report and spread the news.  And this certainly applies to elected officials.  Think about it: in the days before social networking, you had extremely limited options to massively connect with all of our constituents.  That day is no longer here – you no longer need the media to have a massive connection with your constituents.

You have an obligation

This is the part where I get on a soapbox: If you are an elected official, you have an obligation to advocate for your views, and to keep your constituents informed.  And, if traditional media is declining, then elected officials must fill the gap by making more direct connections with our constituents.  We have to let them know the services available to them, our positions on vitally important issues, and how they can connect with us.

The danger to our democracy

This is all well and good, and I like to think that I’m a good elected official who really believes in everything I wrote above.  But only a fool would ignore the challenges that the decline in traditional media presents to our democracy.  Of course every elected official will do everything possible to keep our constituents informed about what we do – it’s more than just good for democracy – it’s good politics.  But it’s not as if we are going to be doing anything but presenting ourselves in the best possible light – and it is the job and goal of reporters to provide that honest examination of our actions. So, as traditional democracy declines, and as elected officials enter the media business, we also lose the guardians of democracy.  On one hand, it’s great that elected officials can communicate, so easily, with constituents.  On the other hand, it’s incredibly dangerous, if no one else is watching us.

Any thoughts to add about this media shift? Let us know in the comments!

Twitter Logo

Jun, Spain: Digital Democracy

Last week, the Huffington Post ran an absolutely fascinating story on the small town of Jun, Spain (Population 3,500), which is absolutely obsessed with Twitter.  You should read the story to learn more, but here are the highlights:

  • The Mayor of Jun, Jose Antonio Rodriguez Salas, is obsessed with Twitter.  He uses it regularly and encourages all citizens to use Twitter.
  • All public employees have a Twitter handle and use it to respond to complaints, concerns and other various issues.
  • The public and private life of government employees has become increasingly integrated – which, according to the article, is a good thing.  Said the article, “Jun essentially runs on Twitter…”
  • Jun has used Twitter to improve customer service and be more responsive to its citizen’s needs.

Given how small this town is, they can put a great deal of effort into getting residents on social media.  However, as obsessed as I am with government and social media, this just isn’t a realistic strategy for most governments.  There are a variety of reasons for this, but ultimately, in my mind, it comes down to resource allocation: you only have so much money and so much time in a day, and I’d rather spend my time making government work better, not making sure my residents were on Twitter.

However,  there are a few takeaways from this story that ever government can use:

  • Make your social media as accessible and visible as possible: As the article notes, the town’s Twitter handle prominently featured at the Town Hall.  Town meetings accept public comment via Twitter and are streamed over the web.  In other words, the town is clearly going out of their way to be as accessible and transparent as possible – and their Twitter use reflects that commitment.
  • Social Media for workflow: By using Twitter so obsessively, the town has been able to better respond to complaints and input – so much so that phone calls are being reduced and they have less staffing needs.
  • Twitter for morale: Town employees love seeing themselves in positive feedback, and when they do a good job, this happens.  Of course, this can backfire as well – while elected officials can (and should) expect to be on the receiving end of direct citizen complaints, I don’t necessarily think it’s fair that public employees should be so subjected to the same type of criticism.  In that sense, social media is certainly a double edged sword.
  • Expect pushback: As the article notes, not everyone is a huge fan of the incredible emphasis that Jun places on Twitter.  To that end, it’s important to remember that social media use in government is a means to an end (improved customer service, transparency and saving taxpayer dollars), not an end in and of itself.

Tweets and Consequences

Like the blog?  Get the book!  Tweets and Consequences: 60 Social Media Disasters in Politics and How You Can Avoid A Career-Ending Mistake is now available on Amazon for purchase or download.

Facebook logo

Facebook newsfeed algorithm changes – again

Yup, it’s that time again.  Here are the new changes to Facebook’s newsfeed, directly from the source:

  • Previously, we had rules in place to prevent you from seeing multiple posts from the same source in a row. With this update, we are relaxing this rule. Now if you run out of content, but want to spend more time in News Feed, you’ll see more.
  • We’ve also learned that people are worried about missing important updates from the friends they care about…the second update tries to ensure that content posted directly by the friends you care about, such as photos, videos, status updates or links, will be higher up in News Feed so you are less likely to miss it.
  • Lastly, many people have told us they don’t enjoy seeing stories about their friends liking or commenting on a post. This update will make these stories appear lower down in News Feed or not at all…

So, what does this actually mean for pages?  Nothing good…as Facebook notes, “In some cases, post reach and referral traffic could potentially decline.”  How your page is affected depends on “the composition of your audience and posting activity.”

The first change is a good thing for Pages, because it means that if someone runs out of content, they’ll see more – and that may increase the odds of your content being noticed.  However, if your fans have a high amount of friends, it’s irrelevant.

The second and third changes, however, aren’t good for marketers, though they are arguably good for regular Facebook users.  Change #2 will boost the chances of seeing content from “friends you care about” – and thus crowd out Page content. Change #3 is the most devastating for changes, because it decreases the chances of your Page’s content being seen by someone who likes or comments.  This is a pretty common way that a Page’s content is shared in the newsfeed.

What’s your way around this?  Pay up.

Personally, I think this is part of Facebook’s ongoing (and understandable) efforts to increase revenue.  Organic page reach can never go completely away…like a drug dealer, Facebook will always need to give you “just a taste” to get you hooked.  However, if you want a bigger high (more reach and interaction), you’ll have to pay up.  There’s nothing wrong or immoral about this – Facebook is, after all, a business, and entitled to optimize it’s revenue – but it does serve as a reminder that you do not have control of your own Facebook audience, nor do you have guaranteed free access to them.  To that end, make sure you are continuing have direct access to your audience with different digital social media tools – things like Email blasts, your website and blogging.

Any other thoughts to share about this issue, or ways around the recent changes? Let us know in the comments!

No Fail

Learning from Fail: Delete embarrassing social media posts

This is a fantastic way to avoid getting publicly humiliated and written up in this blog.  You might remember Ethan Czahor, who was briefly hired by the Jeb Bush campaign as the Chief Technical Officer, only to be forced to resign after a series of embarrassing social media posts went public.  Czahor, to his infinite credit, has used the experience to hopefully help others avoid making the same mistake.  He’s doing this through the launch of a new app: Clear.

The app is in Beta right now, which means it’s being tested.  I signed up and a message told me there are over 16,000 people ahead of me, so good for Clear!

Anyway, from the app’s description, here’s how the app will work.  First, it connects (privately) with your social media accounts – specifically Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  From there, the app performs “complex analysis” on all your posts, flags potentially offensive content, and gives you the opportunity to delete it.

My only concern about an app like this is that it could give people a false sense of security, in two ways:

  1. No computer or algorithm can get every context, and this could miss potentially offensive content.  To that end, if someone relies on this program, not a thorough, manual review, they could have a false sense of security.
  2. This app could spur people to think, “Oh, hey, I’ll just go nuts and delete later,” neglecting to realize that digital can be forever and someone can get a screenshot of offensive content long before it is deleted.

That being said, if viewed properly (another tool in the toolbox), this app can be a great way to checking old content and removing anything potentially offensive.  More to the point, good for Czahor!  He not only learned from his mistakes, but he’s trying to help others prevent making the same ones.

Congressmen Gowdy and Buck pose with guns

Congressional Pro-Tip: Do not pose with assault weapons in areas where assault weapons are illegal

Congress makes the laws – and, in the process of doing so, they frequently exempt themselves, as was discovered following this tweet from Congressman Ken Buck:

Also featured in this picture is Congressman Trey Cowdy (R-SC), who is leading the House’s investigation into Benghazi.  The picture features the Congressmen with an AR-15, which is an assault rifle.

Why is this a problem?  Because, as noted by The Hill, assault weapons cannot be legally possessed within the District of Columbia, and this picture was taken inside of the Capitol complex.

In a conversation with The Hill, Congressman Buck stated that he had permission from the U.S. Capitol Police to have the AR-15 in his office.  He added:

“I have a very patriotic AR-15 hanging in my office. It hangs directly above my Second Amendment flag.  While safety protocols call for all guns to be treated as if they are loaded, this one isn’t. Further, a close inspection of the only public photo of the rifle will show that the bolt carrier assembly is not in the rifle; it is in fact in Colorado. It is a beautiful, patriotic paper weight.”

Washington D.C. authorities, however, saw the issue (slightly) differently, and investigated the issue. However, believe it or not, Congressman are exempt from laws that prohibit them from possessing assault weapons in Washington D.C.  Accordingly, Congressman Buck broke no laws.

Incidentally – and not surprisingly – Congressman Buck is fundraising off the issue, sending out an Email in which he says that, “Anti-Gun Liberals are leading a full attack against Trey Gowdy and me over the picture taken above.”

From a purely political perspective, Congressman Buck got a win here.  He got to attack “anti gun liberals” and probably raised money off of the issue.  So, a potential liability turns into a positive.  A strange situation, to say the least.

Chipolte Logo

Taking Advantage of the Politics of Chipolte

In what was, thus far, the stupidest story of the 2016 Presidential cycle, former Secretary Hillary Clinton was spotted anonymously grabbing a bite at Chipolte while driving to Iowa for the first stop of her 2016 Presidential campaign.  It started out as a relatively small human interest story before becoming even bigger: She didn’t tip, which turned into a controversy.  Then other candidates stopped at Chipolte and made sure to tip.  Then some made fun of the former Secretary, because they cook their own Mexican food.

A Google News search for “Hillary Clinton Chipolte” reveals way, way, way too many stories.

COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE LESS IMPORTANT?  Seriously.  This is ridiculous.  There are so many real issues facing 2016 Presidential candidates, and we are talking about a burrito bowl.  What a distraction.

Sigh.

Anyway, here’s the point: The Chipolte story has turned into an actual thing that people are using to judge Hillary Clinton.  Sadly, this is the political world that we live in: When small stories become much larger than we ever deserve.  So, the question becomes this: How can elected officials use these small stories to discuss who they are, and then leverage those kind of stories on social media?

It is possible, and more importantly, you can do so in a manner that advances the interests of your district and constituents.  Some thoughts:

  • Patronage local businesses: When you are at a local business, post a pic on Facebook.  Talk about your order.  Talk about how nice the staff is.  Make sure to make the focus on them, not you.  Soon enough, you’ll be recognized in other local businesses, and they may ask for the same treatment!
  • Be human – get specific: As this idiot Chipolte story showed, people like the little human details about elected officials.  Almost all of these stories discuss what the former Secretary ordered for lunch.  So, when you are shopping at your local businesses, get specific and talk about what you are purchasing, and how you are going to use it.  This will remind people that you, as an elected official, are a human being.  You take care of your kids.  You mow your lawn.  You are a normal person, like anyone else.  That is always an effective point for an elected official to be making.
  • Tip: Someone should have tipped.  You are an elected official, and you have to care for the average worker.  Tip.  That being said, don’t go running around on social media, screaming “I TIPPED BECAUSE I CARE!”

Any other thoughts to add?  Let us know in the comments!

Tweets and Consequences

Like the blog?  Get the book!  Tweets and Consequences: 60 Social Media Disasters in Politics and How You Can Avoid A Career-Ending Mistake is now available on Amazon for purchase or download.