By: Dennis Hernandez, firstname.lastname@example.org
Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and even email, are powerful tools available to city council and school board members. Facebook and Twitter accounts are easy to create. Communicating with constituents about an issue coming before the board or sharing your ideas about the Common Core standard can be fast and responses from constituents can be furious. But some elected officials have run into trouble using social media. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Think about how you want to communicate: Social media can be fully interactive or can be more limited. You have options. You can set up your Facebook page or blog to allow comment and feedback from constituents, or it can be information only, not allowing comment. If you want to be fully interactive, there are risks: risk that you will offend someone, risk that you will turn people off, and risks that you will invite that crazy constituent that shows up at every meeting to continue the rant online.
- You can’t take it back: The biggest problem in social media is the fact that the send button is easy to reach. Be thoughtful and deliberate in your communications with constituents. Think about each post as if it were going out on your personal stationary. Don’t hit send if you wrote the post in anger or if you were in a hurry. Show it first to a trusted source. Look for typos and grammatical errors. And remember, sometimes the story is not about what you said, but how you said it.
- Don’t blur the lines: As an elected official, you have a pubic life as a legislator and public official, a political life (that is the work of getting reelected), and a private life. When using social media, keep these different roles in mind as you communicate. You wouldn’t want to share personal or confidential information on your public education page, and you certainly don’t want to campaign on a city website. Each of these roles involves a different kind of communication. Keep them straight.
- Know the rules: If you are using publicly-owned technology (computer, email, website), check to see if there are policies governing the use of social media. Know that you are creating a public record. Follow rules 1, 2 and 3 above.
Democracy is alive and well online. As an elected official, you can use social media to educate, communicate, and to build a strong following on the issues you are passionate about. Keep these tips in mind, and you will be ahead of the game.
Dennis is an attorney in private practice with more than thirty years experience with municipal, education and other public sector clients.