Saturday, June 26, 2010

Social media holds value for politicians

Social Media Matters
By Brian Cormier
Friday, June 25, 2010
Moncton Times & Transcript
Metro section

Politicians and social media: With more and more politicians online these days, this has added a new dimension to communicating with the public and media. Once able to hide behind a bevy of handlers, politicians and candidates are venturing more and more into social media, sometimes to their credit, and sometimes to their own detriment.

If you're a politician or candidate, it goes without saying that being personally involved in social media will bring you closer to voters and certainly give the perception of being more accessible. Years ago, we had to send a letter to a politician - a letter that was vetted through several people for consideration. Today we're communicating more and more with our elected officials through Facebook and Twitter.

Personally, I think it's a good thing that politicians and candidates are more accessible this way. However, there are many pitfalls to avoid.

If you're a horrible writer and can barely put two words together, you won't exactly breed an image of competence and ability. You may be able to make people swoon in public during a speech (very important!) and you may also be able to move bureaucracy and society into making fundamental changes that help many people (also very important!), but the ability to actually write reasonably well is now on the table, too.

I'll resist the urge to go on another spelling rant, however, it's important to know your limitations. If you can't spell and you know it, get some help. Pass your tweets and updates through a proofreader or trusted friend before. Sure, this may not exactly be fast, but at least you'll avoid looking like a dim bulb.

Be careful about getting into online public arguments. There are many journalists who use Twitter quite effectively. If you're just starting out and are trying to show off to your followers, you'll get caught by someone who may use your lack of social media knowledge against you. And no, this is not entrapment. If you want to play in the sphere of social media and have set yourself up on Twitter and Facebook, it's fair game to take you on.

It's not the journalist's job to treat you like a newborn kitten. Practise first or get some good strategic advice from some of your supporters knowledgeable in the area before getting too involved.

Answer comments on your Facebook page and Twitter. There will obviously be some negative things there from people who don't support you, but you'll also get sincere feedback and questions from legitimately undecided voters. Keep track of your social media networks like you would your telephone, e-mail or mail box. Don't feel obligated to get into arguments with obvious opponents who are baiting you. It's usually pretty glaring who these people are.

There are some people who don't agree with deleting negative comments. Personally, I have no problem with the practice. If someone has a hate on for you, there's no use leaving their stuff on your site. This is easy enough to do on a blog or Facebook, but keep in mind that negative comments written on Twitter can't be deleted by you when they mention you. Tread lightly, though, when choosing what to delete. There's legitimate criticism and then there's harassment. Delete the harassment and know the difference.

I believe that politicians getting involved in social media is a very good thing, however there are many landmines out there. Make sure what you write makes sense and that you sound intelligent. Read what you write out loud. If it doesn't make sense out loud, try again! Don't get into public arguments with people online or you'll end up in the news - and for all the wrong reasons. Be sincere. Don't exaggerate because you'll definitely be called on it by opponents or the media. Make sure you get your facts straight all the time, not just some of the time.

Using Twitter to connect with tourists: One of the search terms I regularly check on Twitter is "Moncton." I like reading about what people have to say regarding the city. Thankfully, the vast majority of what is being said is very positive. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that an Alberta politician tweeted that she was vacationing in Moncton.

I didn't know her from a hole in the wall but decided to send her a message wishing her a good holiday! She was very appreciative of the note and, I think, pleasantly surprised that someone local saw her tweet and wished her well in her travels.

This gave me a bit of a brainstorm now that tourist season is upon us. If you own a restaurant, tourist attraction or hotel, keep an eye out on Twitter for people mentioning that they're travelling to your area. If you're in Shediac, for example, search for "Shediac" on Twitter and send notes to people mentioning that they're in town visiting. Don't try to sell them anything... just say "hi" and give them some tips on local attractions. They'll check out who you are (make sure your profile is properly filled out) and may give you some of their business! Even if you're just a regular citizen like me, welcome tourists to the area this year by saying "hi" to them on Twitter. They'll be pleasantly surprised at the hospitality and warm welcome they receive "out of the blue" and their experience will be that much better. I'm going to continue saying "hi" to tourists on Twitter this summer. If more people do it, it could be that extra little "oomph" that will keep them coming back!

Twitter giving you problems lately? You may have noticed that Twitter is very slow or completely offline lately. You can blame the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer championship in South Africa for that. Twitter expects to be back to normal after the tournament ends on July 11. Until then, we Twitter fans need to be patient as millions of people tweet every move of every soccer game being played.

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