Civic Politics and Social Media

So I’ve been following civic politics recently. There are two candidates in my municipality, the current mayor, versus the current deputy mayor. I personally think it is about time for our current mayor to retire and for our municipality to bring in a new vibrant leader.

Unfortunately in my community the current Mayor is a part of the ‘Old Boys Club’ if you will and I am fearful that I will once again see him re-elected despite the overwhelming strength of the opposition.

So I have been following the campaigns (or lack there of) so far and have been  thinking and compiling a list of the things I would like to see come out of the campaigns in my local community to send to the candidate in my community that I am choosing to support.

I have always had a strong interest in social media and have been wondering if incorporating social media into a rural political campaign would attract any attention from the voting members of the community. I think it could be an interesting case study and who knows, maybe it could change communications in this rural community and maybe carve out a job for someone like me.

Anyways while I have been watching my own municipalities campaign, I have also been watching what candidates from the neighbouring London civic election are doing. I have especially been following them in terms of their online presence and I have to say I’m feeling conflicted and have begun to ask the question: Is it better to not embrace social media at all or to embrace it and not use it effectively?

Part of me wants to applaud the candidates who are at least trying to embrace social media, but I’m having trouble actually applauding them when yes they’re there, but they’re not really putting any effort into using or understanding the social media platforms they’re choosing to use.

Social Media is meant to be SOCIAL, not merely a soap box for individuals to stand on to push forth their agenda and politics. For example Twitter: If you want to be successful on Twitter you need to FOLLOW PEOPLE. If you are merely being followed you are really offering very little to the community. If you are not following people you are not engaging people; you are not hearing what they have to say; you are not seeing what issues are important to them. If you are not following people you are not building relationships or opening the lines of communication. For example, if someone is following you, but you are not following them, they are not able to send you a Direct Message. So guess what that means, if someone has a valuable insight on community politics or your campaign and they want to share it with you, but not in the public forum they are not able to, at least not through twitter. So they more than likely will have to go hunt out another method to contact you, at which point they may just say screw it and not pass on that piece of information that could have been valuable to your campaign.

In addition, if you are not following people you’re basically saying you really don’t care about them, or what they have to say. I’m sorry but how many candidates really think that their voters don’t want to be heard? Show that you care about the people in your community, even if they aren’t tweeting about something that directly relates to your campaign. If it is something of value or interest to you personally or that you think might be of value to the community you seek to be an elected representative of, Retweet (RT) it! Make the members of your community feel important and valued and like their ideas or accomplishments matter. If a local business lands a great contract, celebrate with them by RT-ing. If someone is looking for help in London help them find it (RT) or provide them with some information (reply).  It’s really simple.

If you’re concerned about being bombarded with useless irrelevant tweets, there is a great  function in Twitter known as lists. It does not get rid of the “fluff” tweets, but it helps you create smaller more manageable groups that allow you find those relevant tweets a little bit easier.  Lists can be either public or private. You can create a list of city officials, a list of city workers, a list of local businesses, a list of average joe citizens, lists of men, lists of women, a list of whatever you want. Or if you don’t want to create your own list, follow a list someone else created. A number of local businesses have lists of their employees twitter accounts.  And you can choose to read only the tweets of the individuals you have placed in those streams and you can choose a day or time of day for when you will read the tweets of each list.

One last Twitter thing, occasionally tweet about something unrelated to your campaign, show people who you are as a person, not just as a politician.

The other thing I noticed this week was when a local candidate joined LinkedIn and started “participating” in some groups. The very first post I saw by this individual was relating to their campaign. I get it, you’re running for civic office and it’s important to do some research and get you campaign rolling. But take sometime to familiarize yourself with the community you just stepped into. Read some other posts and make some comments, offer advice or insight, or even say hello. Maybe introduce yourself as a person interested in what a group has to offer, instead of merely a political figure trying to etch out his or her campaign.

Social Media is just that SOCIAL. Become a part of the virtual community, get to know the people within that virtual community. Offer something of value to that community before your start using them to further your own agenda.

As a 25 (almost 26) year old voter, I want to know that the people representing me understand what I want and care about the things that are important to me or the people I know.

I’ve never been overly involved in politics, they’ve always seemed a bit too “political” for me and by that I guess I mean kind of cold and calculated. It is time for politics to loosen up and warm up a bit. Show some passion, empathy, understanding and most importantly INTEREST for the people whose vote you hope to receive. Social Media is giving you that opportunity – USE IT!

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