Finally, candidates have caught the social media bug, and are ubiquitously using Twitter and Facebook to connect with voters. It's the only story that gov 2.0 news outlets seem to be covering, lauding politicos for their tech savvy. But after next week's election, pay close attention to how many elected officials end their web use. It's a trend some are noticing among politicians, who may take to the Internet during campaigns, yet once in office, tone down the tweets and Facebook posts.
For President Obama, social media has become just another platform for press releases, rather than a way for followers (and potential voters) to gain direct access. "The small-business jobs bill passed today will provide loans and cut taxes for millions of small businesses without adding to our deficit," @BarackObama tweeted recently. "Making a personnel announcement this morning. Watch live at 11:05am ET," another post read. These types of regurgitated messages lose the authenticity that might've driven voters to Obama in the first place.
"It's really unfortunate," says Mindy Finn, partner at e-strategy firm EngageDC and a top campaign official for GOP heavyweights such as Mitt Romney. "When politicians are candidates, they have this incentive to be engaging online, to be very active through social media communicating with voters to win them over. And then, when they get elected, you see that their outreach through social media becomes stilted—it reads much more like a press release. That's unfortunate, particularly when you think from our own selfish perspective that we're kind of always running for re-election, even as elected officials."
Of course, that doesn't mean Obama should be constantly tweeting from UN sessions or expecting will.i.am to bust out another "Yes We Can" viral YouTube video. But politicians should know that engaging with voters through social media is a continuous process, and can't simply be revived a few months or a year before the time of election. There are innovative ways to use social media to include the public in the process of governing—not just the process of campaigning.
"So much of social media is non-partisan—it can make government better," digital strategist Matt Lira recently told Fast Company. "The key is making sure people...are making an authentic impact on the process. We must apply these lessons to other activities in the future: incorporating audiences into bill crafting, oversight, hearings, committee meetings, floor activities—make the public's interaction real."
For now, though, just sending out the occasional tweet that doesn't read like a press release could do the trick. "It's very telling that it's happening even with the President, someone who the Internet and social media helped propel into office," Finn explains. "I'm hoping that it changes."
[Photo by Stephen Cummings]