You may have noticed that, during the current election cycle, some candidates are using new forms of communication, like text message and Twitter. For me, this has been one of the most exciting and disappointing things to watch.
On the one hand, it’s exciting to see candidates using new communication tools at all. It seems that government is stuck in another decade, where communication stopped with the letter. Okay, maybe the telephone or email–but only maybe. Think about it. Find an issue you care about, and what’s the advice. Write your congressman. Write my congressman? I don’t even write my own mother–I email.
Sure, you can call (provided you have time to be on the phone during normal business hours when you are also, y’know, working) but does anyone really want to spend money/minutes on a call only to speak to someone who is probably an intern who could care less?
Then there’s email. Which is great if you want to communicate about a specific issue. But it’s still very one-way. I send an email and get back a form generated response, or somehow wind up signed up to an email newsletter I don’t want and can’t get out of. (Apparently, certain members of Congress aren’t famliar with CAN-SPAM.) But it doesn’t foster much of a sense of connection, and the fact that there are representatives who openly admit to not knowing how to use email (Senator McCain!) doesn’t make me believe that they’re going to place any value on email correspondence.
So, it’s great to see that some people are using new media. I was excited to see that the Obama campaign is on Twitter and was going to use text messages. But I’d be even more excited if they decided to use them well.
First, there has to be an understanding of why you’re using these tools. Unlike a lot of wanna-be internet celebrities, political figures and candidates don’t suffer from lack of name recognition. Especially during election season, they’re provided with a bully pulpit to espouse their ideas, plenty of free and paid media, and of course everyone knows where to find their (admittedly uninspiring) websites. So why bother at all?
The answer to that is easy–community. For better or for worse, winning elections isn’t about being the best guy for the job, it’s also about being the guy people like. It’s about having a story, and making sure that people know what that story is. Youth voters tend not to communicate in the same way as older voters, and using new media tools is a great way to tap into that. Let’s face it, a lot of the narratives traditional media focuses on are not things that matter to younger voters in the same way. That’s not to say we don’t care about social security or who dodged the draft, but it doesn’t strike that same visceral cord because it isn’ t an integral part of our lives. But talk about student loans or access to technology and the internet, and you strike a lot closer to my heart. (Admittedly, I am a geek; your milage may vary.)
But community isn’t just getting your story out there. It’s about feeling connected, a sense of intimacy that is false but compelling. We live in a society that has blown the living hell out of any idea of privacy. I can watch the train wreck that is Brittney Spears’ life or find out my favorite celebrities favorite book/clothing designer/car and emulate them. I can tell the internet every minute detail of my life and know what my friends are doing at any given time, even though we’re 3,000 miles apart. Using tools like Twitter can help create that sense of connectedness. You don’t have to broadcast every intimate detail, but a small bit about something that happened, something not big enough to make it on to the traditional media, but still interesting, can pull people in and make them feel connected. More importantly, by giving people advance notice or detail they can’t find elsewhere, you make them feel special. (Hint: People–especially voters–like this.
The problem is, I’m not seeing any Democrats using things like Twitter in a way that makes sense. (I’m not seeing many Republicans doing this either, but quite frankly, I care about that much less.) The way the text message notificaton of Obama’s VP pick was handled is the biggest example of what not to do, but his Twitter account is another. I’ll discuss both of those in detail inn part two, since this has already turned into a massive blog post of doom.
Until then, I’ll leave you with a question: what do you think new media can provide that traditional media lacks?
Tarot Card of the Day: Ace of Pentacles
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