Social Media: Changing the Legislative Communications Paradigm

New guest article by Beth Becker, the first in a series! Follow Beth on Twitter and at one of her latest projects, ProgressiveCongressNews. And, check out her previous review of Visible Vote.

Social Media: Changing the Legislative Communications Paradigm

By Beth Becker

As recently as twenty years ago, communication experts talked about political communication using two key buzzwords: “rhetoric” and “gatekeepers.” In those days, political communication was about getting the gatekeepers, primarily the mainstream media (remember that this was before the heyday of cable TV), to regurgitate their rhetoric to their constituents in the hope that they would remember it on election day.

Today, social media has blown the paradigm to bits. Today, we don’t have rhetoric so much as we have targeted messaging and messaging strategy. Today, the mainstream media would like to believe they are still the gatekeepers, but more and more people are discovering that THEY have the power to be gatekeepers of their own.

What does this mean for legislators?

In order to effectively communicate with their constituents and future voters, they need to engage them using the channels and language that make them comfortable. Twenty years ago, that meant going to mud sales and diners and churches. Today, that means live video and tele-townhalls, Twitter streams and Facebook walls.

Does this mean they no longer need to use traditional methods? Absolutely not. It means they need to do more, but they also need to be more strategic in their thinking. Politics is still about people and relationships; the need for a legislator to go out and shake hands and kiss babies will never disappear. Today, however, in between shaking hands and kissing babies, they also need to upload a picture of the event to Twitter and Facebook.

The good news is that the technology allows that to happen. Recent reports lead me to believe that within two to three years smart phones and tablets will be the preferred online conduits. Social media platforms are ahead of the curve on this and are ready and waiting to carry the load.

So what now? A legislator needs a Twitter account, a Facebook page and even an account on Visible Vote — but what should they do? What should they not do? [Ed. note: Anthony Weiner has some tips on the latter….]

Stay tuned…we’ll be exploring these topics over the next few months in my new series here on, “Social Media: The Dirty Dozen to Ensure You Engage Your Audience.”

Thanks Beth! Looking forward to the rest of the series – cpd

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Beth Becker
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  • First, hi Beth! Fancy seeing you here!

    Second, I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit as well. I agree with you for the most part but I am concerned that some candidates don’t have a rock solid traditional media strategy. It’s still important.

    * The most reliable voters are often older voters. Older voters mostly get their news from traditional media, the ‘gatekeepers.’

    * Traditional media, whether it’s true or not, is considered to be non bias whereas most online media is not. Bloggers openly have certain agendas, and so, when you consume content from one blogger you know it’s coming from a certain perspective while when someone reads something in the local newspaper they are likely to give it more weight in their voting decision as a neutral source of information.

    Where the focus should be depends varies district to district. There are some districts where candidates should place more emphasis on social media channels compared to traditional media and others where the converse is true.

    Anyhow, good points, just throwing in my two cents!

  • […] Specials Posted by: K Street Cafe Editor ShareSocial Media: Changing the Legislative Communications Paradigm (e.politics) In today’s world, legislators can no longer rely on traditional communications […]

  • I am wondering if there is also an issue about where and how one displays this data and about making it interactive. Ie, letting constituents comment on posts by others. Any thoughts??