What Role Do You Want Social Media to Play in Politics?

by Nichole Kelly |

Last Friday Mashable reported that President Barack Obama’s recent #compromise campaign actually cost him over 36,000 followers. Was it an example of how “not” to use social media to move a political agenda or was it a great example of how to spark conversation amongst constituents? I’m sure that’s going to be an open debate for awhile. While we consider the thought of whether Obama and his social media team made the right decision with the campaign, it opens an even bigger question. What is social media’s role in politics? Where do we want to see social media in the political conversation?

Question 1: Are you okay with social media being used to forward political agendas?

There is no question that the #compromise campaign was intended to put pressure on the Republican party. Parties aside, is this okay? Do we want political figures using social media to sway public opinion on a topic? Or does this compromise the integrity and purity of the dialogue between constituent and politician?

Question 2: Would you use social media channels to share your opinions with your political representatives?

Clearly, one of the benefits of social media is the ability to have two way conversations and politicians are supposed to represent the opinions of their constituents. Therefore, social media is a great opportunity for politicians to facilitate that dialogue and take the opportunity to get feedback from their constituents directly. Many politicians, especially at the local level end up getting feedback from a few very passionate constituents and rarely hear from the majority. Is social media a channel that will facilitate this dialogue and help them make better decisions for their constituents?

Question 3: Do you want the opportunity to participate in town hall style meetings with your local and national representative to understand the issues and possibly share your perspective?

Our society keeps getting busier and busier. In a recent study released by the Congressional Management Foundation it showed that many of our political leaders still value in-person meetings as more important than facilitating online meetings.

  • 98% said attending events in the district/state are important
  • 90% said in person town hall meetings are important
  • 83% said telephone town hall meetings are important
  • 44% said online town hall meetings are important

Does this accurately reflect how important these events are to you?  Do we really have time to attend in-person meetings? Is that giving our representatives and accurate reflection of public opinion? Would you be more active if you had the ability to participate online?

Question 4: Would you subscribe to the blog of your local or national political representatives?

In the Congressional Management Foundation’s study it showed that a member/senator’s blog was considered the least important channel to understand constituent’s views and opinions with only 34% citing it as important. Is this an accurate perception? Would you follow a political representative’s blog to stay informed?

Question 5: Which of these is the BEST way for your representative to understand your views and opinions?

It’s always interesting to see if perceptions align with reality. I’m wondering if the staffers who took these surveys are accurately gauging the importance of social media channels in understanding their constituent’s views and opinions. Here are the answers they had to select from. Which one is the BEST way to have dialogue with you? Are they accurately gauging the importance of social media platforms?

I believe social media creates a unique opportunity for politicians to reach larger audiences than they could before and further that it provides a mechanism to truly understand their constituents while opening a public dialogue on issues. However, I’m seeing more politicians use social media as another PR or marketing channel, rather than using it to open the floor for conversation and I think this is a missed opportunity. It is also slightly disheartening that for those who are using social media that “staffers” are running the channels and it’s unclear if the politicians have any involvement. There is a contingent of Americans that may not be actively engaging in political discussions, but would become more involved if the conversation was where they are. Throughout history politicians have tried to understand public opinion. Social media offers a tremendous platform for dialogue and education on issues. However, it’s clear there are still concerns over politicians ability to “control the message.” Politicians may not always agree with public opinion, but I believe it is their responsibility to listen and provide an open platform for the discussion.

What do you think? Is the Congressional Management Foundation’s survey an accurate reflection of the channels that are most important? Would you engage with your representative in social media channels? Do you think you would be more involved in politics if social media was used more often? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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About the Author

Nichole Kelly

Nichole Kelly is the CEO of Social Media Explorer|SME Digital. She is also the author of How to Measure Social Media. Her team helps companies figure out where social media fits and then helps execute the recommended strategy across the “right” mix of social media channels. Do you want to rock the awesome with your digital marketing strategy? Contact Nichole