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Social Media Is For Complainers (But Should Not Be)

In the political world there is a fascinating trend. Those who complain tend to use social media the most effectively. By those who complain I mean those who are NOT in power:

1. Barack Obama (the candidate, NOT the president). He used social media to engage and empower the masses unlike any modern presidential candidate we have seen.

2. The republican party in 2010: “Republican lawmakers are far ahead of Democrats when it comes to spreading their message in 140 characters or less.”


A Burson-Marsteller study found that 67 percent of Republicans in congress are directly engaging voters using twitter, compared to only 41 percent of Democrats.

3. In a congressional campaign I am following, the Democrat is a 6 term incumbent and likely to win with 65-70% of the vote. On all aspects of the campaign except for one the Democrat is hands down beating the challenger, except for social media. Everyday I get updates from the both sides of the campaign, with new attacks constantly originating from the right.

At the time White House Press secretary even vented his frustration about the “professional left” stating, “They wouldn’t be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president.” The professional left being, Democrats who are not a part of government.

These observations all have one common tie. Those in power fail to engage, those on the outside complain.

This is similar to talking about the weather, it seems that no matter what the weather is people complain, “it’s too hot,””it’s too humid,””it’s too cold.” To a total stranger, you can bond over how “bad” the weather is, because it is not something you can control. This is what is going on on both the right and left, people cannot control what the government does, so it is easy to complain about it.

I argue that this is not how it should be! Through engagement and framing the discussion on your terms, those in power can bring everyone under the umbrella and turn the complaining into productive dialogue. Here is how:

1. Ask questions. People want to feel empowered and like they matter. What better way to make some one feel important than having a congressperson ask them what THEY think.

2. Open your self up to criticism, let people tell you through social channels how they really feel.

3. Respond to them. Nothing makes people feel more worthless than apathy. Simply having a facebook or twitter account is not enough, if you do not interact with your fans or follow them back it says “I don’t care about what you have to say and you are not important to me.” This leads to complaining.

How this works together, Step one “What do you think about healthcare reform?”

Step two, a voter states “I don’t like how you voted on health care reform, I fail to see how it benefits me.”

Step three, the Congressperson responds, “I voted for health care reform because it will help more Americans gain access to affordable health care, what is it you are most concerned about?”

By engaging this person you make them feel important. By explaining why you took action, you promote transparency and bring people under your umbrella, not leave them out in the rain complaining about the weather.

Also, the more you engage the greater you brand grows virally, ensuring your message reaches more people for zero monetary cost!

Once you engage one person, the information is public, this answers the question for many other concerned voters without actually having to talk to them. Proving to be an effective and efficient form of communication.

Many old school campaigns fail to see the benefit of social media, I leave you with this food for thought. It is the story of an underfunded challenger who defeated the well funded incumbent by using an effective social media strategy. Find the article here.

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Sean McBride

Nice post Alex. Good point on those who are in power failing to engage. They are already there, so they feel like the don’t need to engage anymore because they already have control.

Brandon Jubar

As much as I believe in the benefits of social media, I don’t know if I agree with your suggestions.

The problem I see is that, although there might be zero monetary cost, active engagement takes a significant investment of time. And in a world where your tweets and comments are spread far and wide, politicans all try to be especially careful with their words. And carefully crafting questions and responses for online engagement with real people is not something that can effectively be done in a few minutes each day.

When you’re on the campaign trail, every minute is focused on making connections and winning votes. Once in office, however, I certainly hope that our elected officials don’t spend anywhere near as much time interacting with the public as they did on the campaign trail. If a Senator had 1,000 interactions via social media in a month, averaging 2 minutes each (read and respond), it would total almost one week per month. How much time would be spent on 2,000 interactions? And how many people would it really impact? How many of those interactions would actually be with a small handful of people? When would the work of governing actually be accomplished?

The White House has a LinkedIn group and most discussions have thousands of comments. The responses from the White House are made by staffers who, I assume, do nothing but respond to comments and questions via social media. Do we really expect the President to personally handle all of those interactions? Do we really want him to spend his time handling any of them? Personally, I don’t. I would expect that his staff members that are monitoring and responding would be filtering out the “noise” and providing him with an overview of the hot topics, complaints, and compliments… but I believe the President — and most elected officials with tens of thousands of constituents — has more important things to do than personally responding to everyone with an internet connection and a bone to pick.