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Using social media in West Virginia politics

Cartney McCraken is a Social Media Strategist and Client Relations Manager at Rainmaker, a political consulting firm in West Virginia. She was good enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to discuss the use of social media strategies by politicians in West Virginia.

Q. How do you bring politicians into the discussion today?
A. Being involved in West Virginia politics, it isn’t hard for me personally to discuss issues with State Senators and members of the House of Delegates, but only because I know them and am on a first-name basis with some. But as far as discussing issues as a constituent who isn’t involved in the Mountain State’s political arena, it wouldn’t be easy. West Virginia is a mountainous state, and therefore we are still lacking in broadband infrastructure, disabling opportunities for more open communications between elected officials and those they represent. While we are working on connecting all public buildings, (i.e. Hospitals, schools, libraries, etc..) to the Internet, we’re a long way from where we should be. Currently, several elected officials do use Facebook and respond to constituent requests and reporter comments via this social media vehicle.

Personally, I wrote an op-ed piece discussing the need for more elected/aspiring politicians to engage and converse with their current/hopeful constituents via social media. All my company’s political clients utilize several social media vehicles to eliminate transparency and obtain real-time feedback. This allows us, as political consultants and campaign managers, to adapt our messages more quickly based on the needs of younger voters.

Q. With the infrastructure challenges/limitations that exist in West Virginia today, what are the most common methods being used by politicians to get the word out?
A. Politicians rely heavily on direct mail, radio, and TV as vehicles for reaching candidates. Also, fundraisers, pig roasts, and going door-to-door still occur regularly during campaign season in West Virginia. One young member of the House of Delegates, Doug Skaff, hosts a Cinco De Mayo party at a local Mexican restaurant.

Q. Do they come to you, do you recruit, does the local party send them in?
A. As a company, Rainmaker, Inc. both recruits candidates and we have several candidates that come to us. We win nearly 90% of elections.

Regarding educating politicos on the importance of open government, I would love to teach a social media class to elected/aspiring politicians. This field, more than any other, needs to be “PC” or “politically connected” to their voter base, which is a younger audience.

My blog post today addresses some of these issues.

Q. If you were to teach a class to politicians, what information,at a high-level, would you discuss with them?
A. Politicians need to learn more about Gen Y and how we communicate. We like to be engaged, not just a recipient of information. Simply using social media as a means to broadcast information won’t work with us. You must use it as a communication tool that fosters a 2-way dialogue between you and your constituents. In a nutshell, I’d teach effective constituent relations through social networking using open dialogue. I’d also teach politicians how to speak the same language with younger constituents, and how to engage them.

Q. What is the biggest mistake you see politicians making on social media today?
A. Treating social media as a broadcast tool, rather than an engagement tool, is the number one mistake committed by most elected officials. When it comes to social media usage for open government, elected/aspiring politicians must have a conversational mindset.

Q. Do you see differences in social media usage between political parties?
A. While searching on Twitter, there seem to be more GOPs involved in the broad political arena than Dems. I’d say its about even in West Virginia though.

Q. In your opinion, which social media tools are the best fit for today’s politicians?
A. I think Obama had the best social media of any politician to date, obviously. But just starting out, let’s keep it simple. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Rather Stone Age in the digital democracy, I know, but it’s a start.


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