The use of social media in the national and statewide political process has proven to be an important tool in both the election process and continued constituent communication. There have been more than enough articles published regarding the increased use of social media by our national elected officials and their surrogates. They do a great job getting their messages out and engaging with their constituents. Maybe too great of a job. Their social media success brings to light how social media understanding is lacking on the local level. As we become more social media savvy; local candidates and elected officials do not seem to have fully embraced the true essence of social networking.
The time honored traditions of press conferences, news releases, meet and greets and knocking on doors will always have their place in distributing the message. However, they should not be considered the only options.
Social media is more than just setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account in order to post status updates and press releases. Theoretically, that is what a website has been traditionally used for; and even that has been evolving over the last few years. Social media should be looked at as a means to initiate a two-way dialogue with followers. To engage them on the issues. That is not to say that our news feeds are void of any updates on the local level. It is sporadic at best. In terms of engagement with constituency and followers; however, it is at times nonexistent.
We have social media contacts from many regions of the country, if not the world. A vast majority of us regularly share our views on local, national and global political topics with solely local connections. At one point, I was involved in four separate discussions on the hot button topic of the day. Each of those discussions involved four separate groups of people. Though hard to keep track of the progress of each discussion, it was an exhilarating and intellectually stimulating experience. Unless our local politicians were mutual connections with those involved in the discussion, they remained clueless regarding the sentiments expressed. In a perfect virtual world, it would have been nice to have these lively and insightful conversations on one central location where the voices of the participants would have been heard and responded by our local politicians and/or their surrogates. That is the true essence of social media.
It is not as if we do not try to start conversations with them. There are comments made on their Facebook and Twitter posts. Very rarely are there responses or even a “Like”. Social media engagement needs to be viewed with the same importance as one would view constituent engagement at a fundraising event or while knocking on doors. First rule of thumb for every politician is to get to know your political base and constituency by engaging in a dialogue with them. Constituents want reassurance, even online, that their voices and opinions are being heard by those that represent them or hope to represent them.