• Politics and social media
    October 15,2012

    It is getting to be that time of year. You can feel it in the air as political tensions rise and you stop speaking to friends from the “other” party. Election season is upon us.

    Debates are happening at the local and national levels, campaign fliers and signs are sprouting up all over town, news outlets are watching every move the candidates are making, and campaign ads are popping up during the commercial breaks of your favorite television shows.

    Do you see anything missing from this list? Social media.

    Although many current politicians are on Facebook or Twitter, it is difficult to find some names that appear on the ballots on these sites. People may cringe at the thought of politicians being on social media, as these pages often open the politician up for scrutiny by the public. However, it can also be a great, free way for them to state how they stand on different issues and to address the public, as well as measure how receptive the community is to their ideas and positioning.

    It is hard to open yourself for public scrutiny, as we have seen several times on social media. There was recently a story in Burlington about a digital media and Web consulting group attempting to provide their services at no cost to 30 local small businesses in 30 days. It sounds like a great marketing idea, but they were called out through social media as having misrepresented themselves and not having good business practices. Due to the backlash, they were forced to shut down operations and their partnership ended as well.

    We have to remember that social media have not changed human behavior, but instead have only enhanced our speed of communication. We can post, comment and share on the go, immediately after something happens, or even while it is happening. This has helped businesses with their plans and practices. By opening themselves up for instant feedback on all interactions and taking better action in responding to customer experiences, businesses have grown.

    Politicians could use social media in a similar fashion. Just like any company or organization on social media, politicians should be using social media to have two-way conversations about the issues. Yes, presidential candidates have been utilizing social media. But local candidates could be using these sites further. They could have meaningful interactions with the people in their communities and gain important feedback that may help make future decisions.

    An August 2012 report of the Pew Internet Project said that 86 percent of young adults aged 18-29 with Internet access are utilizing social media, and 66 percent of all online adults use Facebook. In a separate study by Pew Internet, 65 percent of the 18-29 age group use the Web to get their news. Just like any marketing and outreach, you need to know where your target audience is and how to connect with them.

    I often hear comments about young professionals not being involved in their communities or voting in elections. It is almost a challenge for this 18-29 age group to find information on candidates. They want the opportunity to interact and instantly gain insight into where each contender stands on every issue. Not utilizing ways with which this group can find this information hurts the candidates and blocks that group from becoming educated voters.

    If you are a politician looking to enhance your Web presence, do not forget the importance of having a website and interacting with your community via email. But please, no matter which mediums you utilize, please think about your voice. Think about yourself as a brand and how to best market that brand. You will need to continue to look back at your image, brand and voice, and ensure that you are meeting or exceeding the public expectation of what you lead them to believe about yourself.

    Katye Robare Munger is the director of digital media at Castleton State College and is a social media marketing consultant. She can be reached at localsocialvt@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter: @localsocialvt.

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