Is there a role for social media in the Governor’s office?

Belated congratulations to #VT Governor-Elect Peter Shumlin!

It was a nail-biter and I must say a very interesting campaign for many reasons. As the dust has settled and we’ve begun to get the news of administrative appointments I’ve begun to wonder “where hath gone the social media?” (it sounds so much more academic when I write “hath” don’t you think?)

Well it would seem I’m not alone in that wondering. A recent Twitter exchange between myself and @vtwatch back on December 4th highlights some of the wondering including questions about the lack of a true transition team website and even if there should be an emphasis from the Gov-Elect’s office on social media at all. As Rich Nadworny pointed out, “@ejyoung67 @vtwatch If @PeterShumlin appoints a “social media advisor” then the state’s really in trouble. Not what we need.”

It’s a good question.

Should there be a “Social Media Advisor/Assistant” or even dare I ask, a “Community Manager” who is associated with a Governor’s office?

Recent announcements of individuals assigned to key roles in the Shumlin administration are opening up more questions from other sources about how this administration might view the role of social media and I must admit that I’m pretty disappointed.

Let’s begin with how one finds out about the appointments to the administration shall we?

Google it.  I dare you.

I searched on Shumlin Administration.  My results provided excellent information and current updates from amazing sources that I trust including:

  • The Burlington Free Press
  • Green Mountain Daily
  • VPR
  • VT Digger — their Twitter Feed AND their Website

I also searched on Shumlin Transition and Shumlin Transition Team.  Similar results.

You might ask, “Elaine, so what’s the problem?  News is getting disseminated. Information is flowing. What does that have to do with social media anyway?”

Give me a few more lines and I’ll get to the point (I am an academic afterall…)

Search on Shumlin and the top result is the campaign site that now has this nifty message:

Notice that I can still donate and I can still link to his social media sites AND I can find out about the inauguration (the link is obscured by some of the design).  Let’s take a quick peek at the current status of the Shumlin social media options:

So what about this inaugural website?

It’s called CELEBRATE VERMONT: http://www.celebratevt.com/ and it is a place you can go to:

  • get a schedule of events
  • get news items about the inauguration
  • volunteer to help
  • contribute (no fancy set up here — just an address where you can send a check.) Kudos the the new administration that proceeds go to the Vermont National Guard Charitable Foundation

At this site you can also connect with them via SOCIAL MEDIA!

Alright then based on this very quick analysis it looks to me that the Shumlin administration has begun to segment and prioritize their social media.

  • Facebook: They are putting most of the emphasis on Facebook and this is where the announcements are happening. Nifty. Go a bit deeper here and you’ll see that the folks responsible for this feed are really just posting “news items”.  There is little to no engagement.  People are posting and asking questions and getting no answers. Oh and btw, none of this is getting found on Google.
  • Twitter: The message I get here is that Twitter is only good enough to tell you to come to a party. Any news items, well that’s clearly not an emphasis of this transition team.
  • YouTube: Video is good. But, again, it’s about “Come to the Party” and not about news items, announcements and information about the people being added to the administration.
  • FlickR: Obviously pictures (although they are worth 1,000 words) aren’t that important either. Nothing posted from the process as we awaited the vote counts. Nothing posted once a winner was declared.  And now there is the inaugural space — I’m sure we will see some great photos from the evening and the events…at least I hope so.

Now back to the initial question — why does this matter anyway? Frankly information should be coming from the Shumlin team directly to Vermonters.  Right now the team is relying almost solely on traditional media (that they do not have control over, by the way) to get information out.  While they are posting information via Facebook — they are missing many Vermonters who don’t have Facebook and the lack of a transition website is troubling. Seriously, a simple website would do so much to provide content that more individuals can access without waiting for it to come out in the paper or hear it on the news.

Oh…one more thing….

A great post over at Green Mountain Daily has sparked some interesting conversations around social media, the Shumlin administration and specifically WHO should be responsible for managing the “new media” and what should their qualifications be?  As you probably already know Bianca Slota from WCAX has been named Press Secretary for the Shumlin administration — this is the role that will also be responsible for “new media” in addition to working with the Vermont press.  She’s a great reporter who has solid news experience. Awesome choice IMHO for a Press Secretary. Sue Allen who as worked at the BFP and the AP is now Special Assistant to the Governor and will be responsible for Communication Strategies.  Also an awesome choice.

In a traditional media and communication world.

But now we get to the crux of this whole post.

Is there a role for social media in the Governor’s office?  I believe there is and there should be.  However all indicators are that the Shumlin administration does not yet see the value beyond Facebook as a push platform for content. The individuals hired who are to be responsible for communication have very little to show in the social media realm.  Slota has a Twitter account that has no activity and a professional FB page that is again about broadcasting info.  And if the Renewable Energy Vermont Facebook page is any indicator Allen has little sense of how to do more with FB than broadcast info either.

One could argue that Vermont is rural and therefore social media isn’t as important as traditional media outlets such as radio, TV and newspapers.  I would argue that in today’s media landscape a Governor who is committed to an open communication style that engages with constituents will have a team who has a proven track record in all areas of media communication. Allen and Slota are hands down proven in traditional.  But this administration is setting themselves up for challenges they can ill afford by not having a member of the team who GETS social media — and how to connect it and integrate it into a cohesive communication strategy.  Oh…and monitor it. This team needs to be ready out of the gate and they don’t have time (don’t get me started on two year terms) to waste in “learning” how it works. Three years ago no one knew about Twitter.  A lot can happen in two years with social media tools.

My recommendation to the Shumlin administration — hire a social media person. With a powerhouse like Allen at the helm, and a well known, solid reporter like Slota on point, bringing in a Community Manager or Social Media Associate/Assistant who gets it would create an amazing team.  Oh, and if you don’t know who would be good, I’ve got a few names I could share (smile). Let’s face it, if a role like this is good enough for Fortune 500 companies, why wouldn’t it/shouldn’t it be worthy of a Governor?

So yes, Vermont, I do believe that social media is important in the Governor’s office — if that Governor is committed to engaging with constituents beyond ribbon cutting.

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  • norsehorse

    Regarding Governor Peter Shumlin’s online presence and his press secretary, whose role included such, as was reported last week by vtdigger ( http://vtdigger.org/2011/06/06/from-the-fifth-floor-signings-of-the-times/ ; last paragraph) and today via vt.buzz ( http://blogs.burlingtonfreepress.com/politics/2011/06/14/slota-to-leave-shumlins-office/ ), Bianca Slota is slated to leave the administration in late July and will not be replaced.

  • Elaine,

    Interesting analysis. I will offer a different perspective, neither you nor Rich would expect anything less. Drawing an analogy to the business world, the campaign is the marketing process, election is the sale or the close and now we are in customer support mode. Brands only really are interested in engaging on channels where people are engaging with them. It is reactive, maybe wrong, who knows. I follow the #vt and #Vermont hashtags, I have not seen people trying to reach out to Gov elect there, why should the government make more work for itself and open up another channel?

    I like Social Channels, but within the state (similar to what Rich I believe is stating) It does seem to be the minority. If conversations start happening, with high volumes on social channels, then the governor should re-evaluate. The use of Social is very similar to that seen in the business world, Marketing first, Sales second and Service 3rd and in reactionary mode. There are some interesting Gov 2.0 discussions and a platform for ideation and real focused collaboration might be a more valuable use of time and dollars.

    Mitch

  • Elaine,

    Interesting analysis. I will offer a different perspective, neither you nor Rich would expect anything less. Drawing an analogy to the business world, the campaign is the marketing process, election is the sale or the close and now we are in customer support mode. Brands only really are interested in engaging on channels where people are engaging with them. It is reactive, maybe wrong, who knows. I follow the #vt and #Vermont hashtags, I have not seen people trying to reach out to Gov elect there, why should the government make more work for itself and open up another channel?

    I like Social Channels, but within the state (similar to what Rich I believe is stating) It does seem to be the minority. If conversations start happening, with high volumes on social channels, then the governor should re-evaluate. The use of Social is very similar to that seen in the business world, Marketing first, Sales second and Service 3rd and in reactionary mode. There are some interesting Gov 2.0 discussions and a platform for ideation and real focused collaboration might be a more valuable use of time and dollars.

  • Ignore my last, unfinished post….
    Anyway, this is an important conversation and one that is especially interesting to me. I was born and raised in Vermont (just north of Springfield) and live and breathe open government, government 2.0, these days.

    Vermont has evolved a great deal from the state I grew up in but it still lacks in terms of infrastructure for broadband and mobile access. Any digital communication only reaches niche audiences and mainstream media is by far the most inexpensive means of reaching the masses.

    However, engagement, bi-directional communication, citizen collaboration, are all key components of government 2.0 and are becoming more and more of a reality across this country and across the world. Traditional media is only a one-way push mechanism, and the use of social media by this Governor truly does match this approach.

    If I were advising Governor Shumlin I would recommend hiring a consultant to the Governor’s core team that focuses on developing an open government strategy that is one component of the Governor’s overall platform. This approach should completely ignore technology and simply seek to identify the key areas where this administration will work to open government (e.g. education policies, budget planning, etc..).

    This approach would likely lead to:

    – Identifying areas where social media can benefit everyone if used collaboratively.
    – Identify areas where open data can be delivered to benefit citizens who are both online and offline.

    Hiring a social media person into the communication team may come from this approach, then again it may not. The key, however, is to embrace the open government (aka government 2.0) approach. This will lead to increased citizen participation, internal operational cost savings and external job creation. It will take a strong committment by the Governor and his team. Good luck.

    John

  • Excellent post Elaine. As

  • Elaine, great analysis of the Shumlin communications outreach. Since you put me in the post, I’ll clarify further:

    I don’t think social media can or should be separate from the overall communications strategy/team/leader. @VTWatch pointed this out in a subsequent tweet. I would say Shumlin choice of communications director/press secretary should have been someone who was more social media savvy. The same is true in the private sector, which is also still lagging. Adding a community manager feels like a band aid, someone who will be chasing the other two as they direct communications.

    Having said that, Vermont is a very small state, and from a communications standpoint, blanketing the few newspapers and TV stations we have not only covers everyone, but it also has a better chance of being picked up on the social channels. So maybe it’s not a bad social strategy after all.

    • Rich: As I see it, the role of social media associate or community manager is one where the person can really spend the time working the networks, monitoring and posting and engaging. It is a full time job. The communications strategist and the press secretary also have full time jobs. As a team it makes a cohesive whole AS LONG AS they work together as a team and they are all focused on the same goals. Even hiring a press secretary with social media chops wouldn’t solve the full problem of having the time to devote to the day to day management in addition to the press work that must occur as well.

      But, as you said, we are a small state and the connections between our trad media outlets and social streams are pretty solid. It will be very interesting to watch and see how this evolves — not just for VT but for other states as well.