Note: My weekly posts have been moved from Fridays to Mondays.
So… there was not much news of a social media and politics nature over the past week or even the past 24 hours… Oh yes, there was the congressman who tried to covertly tweet a sexually explicit picture and failed…
Keep Tweeting, Rep. Weiner
Due to Monday’s event, we held my post a day so I could update it after the epically brutal (but hopefully honest) press conference called by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y).
I am going to say a few things right off the bat. First, I don’t think the congressman’s actions (as we know them now) are cause to resign. I felt the same about former Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.) earlier this year. As Ezra Klein so wonderfully put it: “Weiner’s photos have no clear bearing on his job performance. If you thought he was a good legislator last month, he’s a good one today.” So long as he didn’t violate any laws, I think he should stay in office and let the voters decide if they want to keep him. Secondly, after a reasonable interval, I hope Weiner continues to tweet and check Facebook, although I’m skeptical that will ever happen. The New York press would have a field day.
But assuming he weathers the storm and returns to a new normal, it will be VERY interesting to see if Weiner continues to use his Twitter account – the current bane of his existence (he hadn’t used it in nearly a week leading up to Monday’s surreal presser).
Up until Weinergate, I personally thought Congressman Weiner was one of the most effective Twitter users on the Hill. Before the original story broke, Weiner had around 42,000 followers, did all his tweeting himself, liked to have fun with his followers as demonstrated by sharing a picture of his crazy 70′s suit from his bar mitzvah, and used creative hashtags prodigiously. And since the news broke, he went from gaining 75-100 followers a day to luring a few thousand a day. In fact, on the the day of the press conference, Weiner had 67,500 Twitter followers. “All press is good press” does seem to apply to follower counts.
If Weiner is able to get some sort of PR oversight – by most accounts he listens to no one’s advice when it comes to social and the mainstream media – I think his witty use of Twitter and Facebook could be salvaged. Not being a crisis management expert myself, I can’t really explain the path for him to follow, but it would be a real shame to lose his voice out there in cyberspace. If former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) can recoup his reputation, there’s surely hope for Rep. Weiner.
Capitol Hill Fallout
As for other Capitol Hill offices, some are battening down the hatches in the wake of the social-media scandal. Tweeted Roll Call‘s David Drucker from the Hill after the Weiner press conference: “From one anonymous press secretary this afternoon: My boss does not have password to his twitter acct, & he never will.”
This run-from-the-Internet strategy makes little sense to me. Rep Lee was perfectly able to make a fool out of himself with sexually-explicit shirtless photos without using social media. Note to staff: if your boss plans to do something dumb, you won’t be able to stop him. And eliminating the use of social media only prevents all the potentially positive consequences of your boss interacting with his followers and constituents (see below). To be continued…
The Amazing Race
Three week ago I mentioned that the House GOP Conference was conducting its second annual social-media contest. The contest is now well underway, having already completed Twitter, Facebook and Youtube rounds to see who can lure the most followers, fans and video views, respectively.
Last week contest chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) tweeted a link to the updated NCAA style brackets. I spoke with Conference New Media staffer Patrick Bell about the contest, and he shared some very interesting data. Collectively, the 106 contestants (98 congressional offices and 8 committees) have gained 13,000 followers on Twitter, 11,000 likes on Facebook and 100,000(!) views on Youtube. That’s pretty incredible for a three-week period. Of course the next, more valuable step is engagement.
I spoke with a number of offices regarding their various strategies, but as most of them were still participating in the contest, they were hesitant to share their secrets. I’m looking forward to hearing which methods worked the best after the winner is declared. Rep. Buck McKeon’s (R-Calif.) new media staff shared some tactics they were using to attract YouTube viewers:
“For the YouTube round, we launched a “Behind the Scenes with Buck” video series, to give constituents a genuine sense of the Congressman’s daily work in D.C. and California on their behalf. It is important to Congressman McKeon that constituents be provided transparency and an inside look into the daily activities of Congress. We provide a wide array of videos, ranging from House floor speeches, answering constituent questions, behind the scenes footage, event coverage, and meetings. We also created categorized YouTube playlists, allowing constituents with an interest in specific areas the ability to filter through the video library.“
By doing this, McKeon hits every major area of interest, bringing his followers a closer look at his daily life and explaining how and why he works and votes the way he does. The lawmaker also worked to make the Youtube user experience as friendly as possible. That’s exactly how a politician can and should get more views and interaction through social media and probably a pretty good reason why his office is still in the competition, now in the “Elite Eight” stage.
As for the benefits gained from participation in the contest, offices were all to happy to share their positive views. Freshman Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) praised the advances of social media. Huizenga also tweets for himself and said that his followers warm to his Twitter account because of it. Rep. Huizenga told me in an interview that “People want to you be real. They want to see honesty” in social media.
New Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) really enjoys the long arm of social media. His staff shared his thoughts: “The direct communication with constituents that social media makes possible is invaluable. It helps me stay connected to my Ohio district, even when I’m in D.C.”
Clearly these congressmen value social media. When will the other members who have not yet included Facebook, Youtube, etc. into their communications strategy, let alone begun to try and improve their use, catch on? And will we see something like this on the Democratic side? Or the Senate?
This week, the White House asked it’s two million Twitter followers to answer the question: “How’s the @whitehouse account doing?” They linked to a survey for users to submit about which official White House accounts they follow, which are valuable and for any feedback on what users are looking for from the official account.
Just like the Obama campaign account, the White House account can do things that your average congressman cannot simply because of its number of followers and their robust interaction. But all Twitter-engaged politicos would benefit from distributing surveys to their followers, whether via Twitter or Facebook, with a questionnaire that asks a lot of the same questions as the White House, such as: “Are you aware of all my social media accounts?”; “Do you use them?”; “What type of content (videos, links, legislative updates, etc.) are you interested in seeing more or less of? “ Feedback on all of these questions helps any government office better tailor its social-media strategy for reaching out to its specific followers.
The Pew Internet Project just released a new poll on Twitter usage in the U.S. It found that now 13 percent of online adults use Twitter, up from eight percent only six months ago. Interesting number: 25 percent of African Americans use Twitter at least occasionally, which is the highest of any demographic.
Recently, Mitt Romney was in Chicago and his staff ordered a few too many pizzas. So what did they do? They sent the extras over to the Obama campaign of course. And then the Romney campaign tweeted about the special delivery for everyone to know about. Seriously. Washington Post story here.
I mentioned Empire Avenue in my second post a relative newcomer to the social-media area. It’s a social-media stock exchange, where users buy and sell each other’s stocks based on how effective they are at using social media, which in turn leads to stock-price value. The site also uses algorithms to rank social-media accounts that a user points to or links, similar to Klout.
This week, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) joined the site (the first major government organization that I have seen to do so; please leave a comment if you know of others). I think there might be some value for certain government orgs, especially agencies, in joining and interacting with the users on this site. A lot of the most active users on Empire Avenue are either social-media “experts” or other high follower/fan accounts (IBM, Ford, etc.), and the site offers a lot of feedback on best practices of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and blogs. I’ll be watching closely to see if NYCDOE or anyone other government orgs join up and use this site creatively.
Finally, a small bit of self promotion. Last week I was interviewed on The Morning Briefing by Tim Farley on Sirius/XM radio’s POTUS channel. We talked about how Twitter might play out in the 2012 campaign. A link to the audio can be found on my Web site.
Josh Shpayher is a contributing blogger at WhoRunsGov and the creator of GovSM.com. His posts appear every Monday. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on twitter @joshpolitico and @govsm.