Making Connections through New Media
By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
Shortly before Sarah Palin left office as Alaska’s governor, she gave a shout-out to nearly 125,000 people.
“Last state twitter. Thank you Alaska! I love you. God bless Alaska. God bless the U.S.A.,” Palin tweeted.
As governor, Palin found a unique way to connect with people—through new media sites such as Twitter, which allows brief 140-character messages sent directly to those who sign up for them. Other governors are using the instant messaging site, as well as other social media such as Facebook, Flickr and YouTube to get their messages out.
“From a citizen standpoint, being able to be more in touch with what is going on statewide or with elected officials is a great thing,” Ben Self of Blue State Digital told State News. “It all comes down to tearing down walls—walls that have stood for a long time between citizens and the government that is there to support and help them.”
Self’s company worked with President Obama’s campaign last fall on its Internet presence. He’ll be speaking at The Council of State Governments Annual Conference in La Quinta, Calif., about how state officials can use new media to connect.
It’s not just governors connecting to constituents in this manner. Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, for instance, found Facebook and Twitter useful in monitoring the November 2008 elections. Grayson’s staff learned about a potential problem in the southwestern part of the state through Facebook, and was able to deal with it immediately.
“Without Facebook, without Twitter, maybe we don’t find out as quickly as we did in order to get everybody on the same page,” he told State News.
Minnesota Rep. Laura Brod values the interaction she gets from people who communicate through her Facebook page and Twitter feeds.
“I just truly believe we are at a point in our history that people have got to pay attention because there’s a lot going on that impacts them and also impacts their future,” Brod said.
These new media have also helped in other areas of state government.
The Arkansas emergency management department, for instance, was able to offer real-time updates to people in the path of tornadoes through Twitter. “Twitter has proven to be a valuable resource when it comes to getting information to the public during a disaster,” Dave Maxwell, director of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, told State News.
This trend of using social media is part of a new disaster dialogue.
New media is also taking a front seat in getting the message out to teens about sex.
North Carolina is one state with a program to provide such needed information. The Birds and Bees Text Line, funded by the state, is one venue for sex education.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes the importance of taking the information to the teens where they are searching for it.
“Kids go online to get health information, and one of the main topics they’re looking for is sex and sexuality,” said Rachel Kachur, health communication specialist for the CDC. “Kids are using the Internet for health information. … It’s up to us to provide them with reliable information and credible resources.”
For this and other issues facing state governments, new media seems to be an answer.