Nov/Dec 2009

State News: August 2009



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Connect with your Constituents in a Whole New Way

By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
Nevada Assemblyman Marcus Conklin freely admits to apprehension when he first entered the world of new media.
As a part-time legislator, Conklin wanted to ensure he maintained control over his private life and his message—and you lose that when you step into social networking, he said. But the reality of the power of new media—500,000 people sign up for Facebook, a social networking Web site each day.
“It’s quickly becoming the community of choice where people can freely share information,” said Conklin.
And, he said, there are many tools available to those who are willing to learn.
Conklin and Minnesota Rep. Laura Brod discussed their use of new media during The Council of State Governments Annual Meeting Nov. 14 in California. Ben Self, a founder of Blue State Digital who served as technology director for the Democratic National Committee last year, also offered tips on how state officials can create a communications infrastructure using new media. This networking ability can be used in governance as well as campaigning, Self said.
“It’s about really doing things differently fundamentally,” he said.
But that only applies to the method, not the message. Self said it’s important for officials to connect with people online just as they would in person—and that requires a level of authenticity in online communication.
“At the end of the day, content is king,” Self said.

He suggested people use the basics—that’s the e-mail list—effectively. He offered seven important steps to successful use:
  • Talk regularly to build a relationship.
  • Be relevant—don’t miss an opportunity to discuss what is happening now.
  • Be authentic: “People like to read e-mails that come from a person.”
  • Be transparent. “People are willing to do amazing things if they feel like they are part of an organization.”
  • Make it easy for people to engage.
  • Raise expectations.
  • Measure everything. On the Internet, Self said, everything can be measured.
Those steps, Self said, get people more involved in a campaign, a cause and in governance.
“People have come to expect a different kind of online engagement,” he said. “You can either adapt now or adapt later but the current model isn’t going to last much longer.”
Brod is one of those who has adapted early. She uses both Facebook and Twitter—which allows her to get a message out quickly in 140 characters or less.
She said the social networking tools allow her to combat rumors, to spark debate on different topics and to illustrate that she is a human being.
“There are some really smart people out there and I learn from those debates at all times,” she said.
She opened her Twitter account in March because she wanted to speak to people in real time, as debate was occurring on the House floor.
“You can use it (social networking) in so many positive ways,” she said.
After his initial hesitancy, Conklin agrees. “The reality is there’s much more available to you if you’re willing to go about learning these new tools,” he said.


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