13 February 2011

Twitter or Huckster? Political uses of social media

Front page of the Telegram with a glorious picture. 

Way better advertising than he could ever buy with cash and Steve Kent nailed it.

Of course, Steve Kent is one thing above anything else:  a marketer.  He knows how to sell you something and the commodity he sells best his himself.  You can tell Steve Kent is good at it because he has done very well for himself in a relatively short period of time.

You can also tell because he uses the textbook lines to describe his interest in social media:

Twitter is really about having a dialogue. It’s about engaging people in conversation and it’s not just another approach to communicating messages in the traditional sense

The front page Telegram story would have you believe that Kent is a keen political trendsetter using social media like Twitter in order to “have ‘more human’ interactions with his constituents.”

Here is an example of those “more human” interactions, the dialogue, the conversations:

-  The Provincial Government is investing $2 million so schools across Newfoundland and Labrador can receive 1,450...

-  Storm has started, but dinner theatre is a go at Reid Centre for @mount_pearl Frosty Festival!

There’s some stuff about a pothole and a flat tire, lots of repeating of other people’s messages – called re-tweeting – and a few sports scores. Not very deep or detailed and all pretty pedestrian stuff.  If this is “more human”, then you’d hate to see the other “interactions.”

Still, good on Kent for going with this sort of thing.  He’s not alone;  he might be the only provincial politician to embrace twitter professionally but there are plenty of others out there.  Most locally tend to use Twitter this way:  very sterile and pretty much for putting on the official face.

Not all of them are like that, though.  Take Tony Clement, the federal cabinet minister.  this guy is on Twitter and he and his personality are right there.

And these guys are distinctly different from other high-profile people who are using Twitter.  News media types are especially notable for just putting themselves and their distinctive personalities out there for people to take or leave as they see fit. They don’t just tweet news or mundane lines teasing up a story on the conventional media for television or radio. Sports, movies, personal comments, jokes are all as much part of the twitter mix as something about what stories they are working on. Two that come easily to mind are Kady O’Malley from CBC Ottawa and David Cochrane, CBC’s provincial affairs reporter in  from Newfoundland and Labrador.

The contrast between the pols and the media is night and day.  One is carefully packaged and guarded, by and large, while the other is more natural.  Guess which one better reflects the online, social media world? 


It’s the news media types.  They have no less at risk than the pols but the ones who are using successfully have come to understand that a key part of their overall success is rooted in them being anything but a coif and a voice. Their personality and their personability has become part of the overall package that draws loyal followers. They aren’t “more human”, they are just human.

Authenticity, it seems, is like sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made in politics. Odd thing is, most politicians real don’t need to fake either.  Why some do remains a mystery.

Incidentally, it’s interesting to see how Twitter turns up in some election campaigns. In Humber West, Liberal Mark Watton has been using his Twitter feed to push out campaign-related information.  He’s tweeted at least once a day.  Conservative Vaughn Granter tweeted on Sunday but hadn’t done anything with Twitter since Tuesday of last week. The NDP candidate – Rosie Meyers – doesn’t appear to have a Twitter feed.

- srbp -