Jan 11

Social Media, Politics and Vermont

Last year (I love writing that!) I wrote a post calling out our Gov-Elect Peter Shumlin for his lack of continued use of social media tools to provide information to Vermonters on his transition.  The post generated some interesting comments and I owe a response to those who took time to respond: @rnadworny, @johnfmoore and @mjayliebs.  Interestingly enough, no one from the @petershumlin staff responded.

Let me start by highlighting the main gist of the comments I received  — in a nutshell both Rich and Mitch felt that because Vermont is such a rural state and not as many people use social media here, then there is not a big reason to focus on the use of social media during a transition when traditional media channels such as newspaper and TV will do just fine.  I liked John’s point about advocating for “Open Government” or the so-called Government 2.0 — which is an approach that emphasizes transparency and openness in communication. I don’t disagree with any of these gentlemen as their points are valid and make a great deal of sense.

However, my issue is that if a campaign feels they should use social media in a state that is as small as Vermont in order to get elected, then why aren’t they continuing that approach once they do get elected? I believe I know the answer and this post will speculate on that as well as offer a different approach that I believe all politicians and governments will have to explore sooner rather than later.

First, I’d like to address one particular point that Mitch made in his response to my earlier post:

From Mitch: “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?”

First of all, as marketers the world over know — it’s a lot cheaper to KEEP customers then get new ones.  What does that have to do with politics?  Well in Vermont, we have only two year terms.  The reality is that our Governor needs to begin campaigning the minute he gets into office — so why let the social channels lay fallow when he could be leveraging and building upon the social base that was created during the election?  Secondly, as a constituent who uses social media I’ve noticed VERY quickly that this Governor is NOT communicating via social media — the team is PUSHING content.  So why should I invest the time if he isn’t?  It’s the classic chicken and egg, cart and horse problem. If the Gov-elect isn’t engaging then why should I?  I write all of this not to be snarky, but to only highlight the challenge of the use of new media tools.

We are no longer in an age where push media is going to have the biggest impact AND consumers are savvy enough to understand that if you are only going to use social channels to solicit money from me, then there is no point in my listening or engaging.

Bottom line:  The Shumlin Administration is making a BIG MISTAKE in not addressing ALL MEDIA CHANNELS with equal importance and in not treating SOCIAL MEDIA as an engagement platform.

Let’s take a look at why:

Trends in social media, mobile and communication technology continue to show an increase in use and are driving change in expectations. As more individuals gain access their expectations on how those tools will support and enhance their lives continues to grow. A recent blog post from Pat Heffernan (@pheffernanvt) of Marketing Partners a local Vermont Marketing firm, about 2010 Internet Trends captures just how important it is for politicians to be thinking carefully and strategically about their approach to social media.  As she writes, “The subject is the massive and rapid change in user expectations. Anyone not paying attention, anyone operating in the same old, same old ways will become irrelevant to their customers.” (read the full post here: http://conversations.marketing-partners.com/2010/06/internet-trends-2010-by-morgan-stanley%E2%80%99s-mary-meeker/)

The countdown to the election begins now. I suspect that the Shumlin campaign jumped on the social media bandwagon because “everyone” is doing it during a campaign.  It’s time to take the lessons of the Obama campaign to heart and not lose any momentum that was gained.  If you stop using social channels to engage with me,  I will no longer follow you or pay attention to you.  Now’s the opportunity to lead and show ways in which a small rural state can leverage social tools to engage, inform and stay connected. Two years is a short time and if you consider that just a few short years ago, no one had heard of Twitter and MySpace was still the biggest social network (that was 2007 folks), technology tools and how people use them will continue to mature. This is not the time to be left behind.

The Future of Politics and Social Media is very interesting. Mashable writer Matt Silverman just posted an interesting article about Four predictions for the future of politics and social media.  In particular he points out much of what both Mitch and Rich stated — many people aren’t using social tools yet — and this isn’t just true in Vermont but it is also true nationwide.  However, more importantly, he writes,The future of the social media politician is not about wild speculation and technological uncertainties. It has everything to do with when and how deeply social media can be absorbed into mainstream culture. We are on track for a tipping point — a JFK/Nixon TV debate moment — when everyone on the political scene will acknowledge that we can never go back to campaigns without social.” He also points out that there will be a shift not just in eyeballs but in dollars spent from traditional TV, Print and Radio to online social tools, “Print and radio ads are not as valuable as TV. TV will no longer be as valuable as interactive media. For politics, this is especially so, as the arena (at its best, anyway) warrants engagement and discussion.” His points are all about the campaign — but they have good value when applied to an Administration that has just been elected.

So yes, Vermont is rural in nature and weekly newspapers and local radio have a great reach. But social media tools are growing in use and adoption — the more value there is for me as a user, the more apt I am to adopt the new communication technologies.  As of June 2010 there was approx. 513,000 Vermonters using the Internet and 200,000 using Facebook. (http://www.internetworldstats.com/unitedstates.htm#VT)  Of course, let’s not forget the amount of money that has been pushed towards helping Vermonter’s gain access to high speed internet access to reach undeserved rural areas. As Sen. Leahy and Sanders wrote, this is a game-changer. In other words, the moon and stars are aligning and while it will take time for all of Vermont to gain access and adopt these tools, the opportunity is now to build up the social infrastructure for the Shumlin Administration.

With all of this in mind, I offer up the following examples of local politicians who are using social media tools and how that use is helping them connect, inform, engage and gain and keep the respect of their constituents … perhaps our Gov. Shumlin could learn something from them.

  • Gov. Cory Booker: Mayor of Newark, NJ: You’d have to be under a rock to not see how this Mayor has leveraged Twitter during the Snownami that hit last week. Follow him and learn how he is helping, connecting and engaging with his constituents using Twitter. @corybooker
  • A slew of Republicans and a Democrat or two: Take a look at the results of this recent Facebook poll that highlighted which politicians are using Facebook in a way individuals find useful: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/posttech/2010/12/palin_republicans_get_high_mar.html.  My personal favorites from this list include: Michigan’s Justin Amash (explaining his votes = big win!), and CA Gov-elect Jerry Brown for doing more than announcing appointments on his Facebook.
  • Rep. Kesha Ram has done an outstanding job of live tweeting, and providing commentary during last year’s session.  I’m looking forward to what she’ll bring this time around. Follow her on twitter at @kesharam.

So here’s to an interesting year in social media and politics.  I look forward to seeing how the Shumlin Administration is going to leverage social media and while I’m disappointed right now, I’m hopeful they will step up their game once they officially get rolling.

Dec 10

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.

Aug 10

VTGOVSM #5: Peter Shumlin

Peter ShumlinPeter Shumlin

Website: http://www.shumlinforgovernor.com

Facebook | Twitter | Flickr | YouTube | LinkedIn

Other Features: Using “Networked Blogs” to important content directly into Facebook. Has a simple email confirmation. Nice YouTube integration. Includes Google Calendar. Facebook share button integrated throughout site. When coming to content through Networked Blogs, more sharing options available (but this is a frame and it is very confusing to the user.) Has one of the best Twitter bios I’ve seen so far. Has a “Company” LinkedIn Profile. Very interesting.

What’s Missing: A Blog. No, really.  Just because the campaign is using a tool named “Networked Blogs” don’t confuse that with having an actual blog. No Twitter feed on website. Has a very sparse, naked even, LinkedIn professional profile.


Shumlin has a great deal of content on the web — given his history in Vermont, that is not a surprise. The campaign site comes up first on an ego search, as does a great deal of news stories (my current favorite being the “stopped for speeding” coverage). A Wikipedia entry is right up there as is the Facebook Official page. Looks like the Dunne Campaign feels that Shumlin is worth some keyword buys as theirs is the only ad running on this search.  Over at Bing the results are pretty similar. So once again, not a great deal of content getting indexed by the major search engine, unless that content is created by traditional media on the web. (I am so looking forward to writing my next post about blogging and politicians).

SEO Analysis: Like most of the candidates the Shumlin campaign gets the nod for the main campaign site coming right up (relevancy is of course key here), but they lose points for all the other content that is not being found. Facebook comes up for this candidate, but YouTube, Flickr and Twitter do not.  LinkedIn only shows up on a special search.  Considering Shumlin announced LAST May (vs. this past May), I would have expected to see better results. Again it’s all about keywords and descriptions and more of those on the YouTube videos would be great (I especially like the whiteboard ads, although I’d suggest Peter that you consider the use of different colors and MORE ARROWS! Sorry, you have to be a student of mine to get it.)

The Website:

As my ex-mother-in-law used to say, “Age is a terrible, terrible thing” and when it comes to fonts on websites as I get older I am forced to agree with her. There’s something about script on a website coupled with a very small font that just gets my eyes very tired.  Perhaps I’m the only one? This site has good visual appeal but I find it very difficult to read. It’s clean and simple with that widget-ized look.  The pull out tabs for the social media sites is a nice little add on and the sign up for the email is very easy to find (although you have to click on it and it takes you to another window where you fill information out, which is a little odd). They have the RED letters for the DONATE tab which if you’ve been reading my series you know I’m not too fond of (a splash of green here would be nice). I guess my biggest pet peeve here is the blog or really the lack of the blog. I’m disappointed in the site functionality and how the content in the boxes links to what I would call “land-locked” islands of information.  In other words, you click from the home page on an item and it takes you to just that item in full, with no other  links to other content, so to find more content you have to go back to “home” or click on “issues” where you only find a few top of the line items (note that technology infrastructure is NOT on the list). The same goes for the so-called “blog” so you have no idea how to find the history of the information that was posted.  This is not a structure/programming I’ve seen before, as most sites are keen on providing multiple ways in which to view content. My sense is this is a structural issue that comes with the content management system they are using.  In my opinion this is a problem for the campaign. Their content is hard to find using search engines and current content is difficult to find directly from their website. The only way I could get to an overview of all the posts from the “blog” was to go into one of the posts and look at the comment section and click on “Posted in Peter’s Blog”.

So let me get right to the big issue here.  I say there’s no blog. And yet, right on the home page of the site in nice script lettering is the following, “From Peter’s Blog”. Folks this is a news feed. Plain and simple. This is NOT a blog. The campaign is pulling in “news items” that are actual mentions in traditional media (newspapers, TV in their online form) and then for the blog they are just posting news releases.  Let me repeat that this is NOT a blog. The candidate should be providing insight and information and policy and details.  That is not happening. Opportunity missed.

Website Recommendations:

Pop up the font a notch or two. Make it easier to read. Keep the top widget with the YouTube and the images — very nice and keep that sidebar with some of the content top of mind information. But please, please, please consider a real blog. And integrate a Twitter feed.  My guess is from the looks of the site it is a content management system of some type (WordPress to be exact, the same platform I’m using for this blog) which should make it fairly easy to pop in the Twitter feed code.  That will make some things a bit more current and make the Twitter account more accessible. But much like the other candidates my biggest advice here is for content. Social media and the Internet is built on content and that means a balance of words, pictures and video. They need to all come together.  Also make it easier for me to find all the posts from the “blog “(a great solution is a tab at the top that brings me to the blog category that provides an overview of all posts similar to the “issues” tab).

Social Media Tools: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and LinkedIn

The campaign is fairly consistent in their branding and “look and feel” throughout the different tools where it is easy to do so. In general they are just missing valuable content and linking. This is true across all the different tools — more descriptive words (other than, “Shumlin for Governor’s first Television Campaign Commercial”) would go a long way to helping get more visibility and to make it easier to understand the information that is being presented. All profiles and bios need to be filled out and since they have such a good one for the Twitter, why not replicate it on the YouTube and Flickr sites?  The same could be used for LinkedIn, although both those areas just need more content as a whole.


The Networked Blogs application works pretty nice in this context — it’s got a small user base right now, but it is a sweet little app that lets the campaign post content quickly to the official page and to the personal profile of the candidate.  (Looks like many of the candidates are doing that double life thing on Facebook.  It’s confusing but as long as y’all make sure to keep up on both, you’ll be ok, just remember that all those people you are “friending” aren’t necessarily your friends). The campaign has the “donate” tab at the top, and you’d think they’d take just an extra little bit to put in a .jpg image or something, but at least you get a link to a place to donate.  The “Boxes” area is up to date and provides links to the new commercials (hmmm…interesting that the new one isn’t up on YouTube yet).  The YouTube box seems to be broken, so either the campaign needs to fix it or just delete it.  Since you have your info in the “Boxes” area no need to duplicate it all. Like all the candidates the “engagement” issue is a continual challenge.  Content is pushed out on Facebook but I’m not seeing a lot of comments and back and forth with people who write on the wall.  Let me provide an example.  I wonder if the candidate would ignore a person if they came up to him and said:

Random Person Shumlin does not understand that nuclear power is safe. How many coal miners died in the last year ? 30 plus. How many oil workers died in the last year ? 11 plus. How many nuclear power workers died in the last twenty years ? 0 ( zero). So give me a break and talk reality. Have you priced a solar heating system… or solar electric system for residential use ….. no one can afford these systems unless you have the money that peter must have.

I’m betting not. But that is exactly what is happening on the Facebook Official page. Someone posted this on the page and there has been no response from the campaign.

So folks, time to get busy and check that Facebook page once a day just like you are checking the email and respond to people when they post there.  Don’t just push the content.  Engage.


I like how this campaign is using Twitter.  Yep, I said it. They are working hard to do a mix of things.  In their tweets we see actual messages from the candidate (several of us, myself, @counciloradrian. @vtwatch and @shaytotten had a bit of a back and forth the other day via Twitter about candidates signing their print materials and leave behinds. I of course asked the question, shouldn’t we then know when the candidate is tweeting vs. the campaign staff?) This campaign is clearly working on that.  Also there is a mix of link sharing, issues and a lot more substance. Less reporting of location.  Here are some examples (although I might take issue with telling academics what majors to offer at the college level, but that my friends is a very different kettle of fish):

  1. @Gyandevi 2/2 – that will focus on the #green industrial revolution! I’ll also push for a climate change major @UVM. We need a different way about 1 hour ago via TweetDeck in reply to Gyandevi
  2. @Gyandevi Income tax credits to all college grads who stay in #VT and work. Also, invest in education programs and higher ed programs …1/2 about 1 hour ago via TweetDeck in reply to Gyandevi
  3. @heif Hope they are all good things! -Pete about 1 hour ago via TweetDeck in reply to heif
  4. asoga Free Press letter to the editor: Shumlin pragmatic, tough, full of hope http://bit.ly/bVVulY #vt #vtgov about 7 hours ago via TweetDeck Retweeted by petershumlin
  5. Check out #BernieSander town hall meeting in #Putney: http://bit.ly/auhavK I talked about single-payer healthcare and reform as #VTGOV. about 6 hours ago via TweetDeck
  6. Health Care Town Meeting http://www.shumlinforgovernor.com/health-care-town-meeting/ #vt, #vtgovsm about 7 hours ago via Twitter Tools
  7. @lukeeriksen If we can invest some $$ in the eastern corridor and support a rail from #Bennington #VT to #NYC, we will be on our way! 8:56 PM Jul 31st via TweetDeck in reply to lukeeriksen
  8. @lukeeriksen The economic benefits of a strong rail system will certainly help our #VT local family farms and spark industrial growth. GO! 7:15 PM Jul 31st via TweetDeck in reply to lukeeriksen
  9. @lukeeriksen We should be doing better. Tracks on the East of #VT could use a facelift and we should improve/build track from #BTV 2 #NYC. 3:34 PM Jul 31st via TweetDeck in reply to lukeeriksen

Note the use of “-Pete” at the end of one of the tweets. In others, (which I didn’t include here) they are writing “Team Shumlin”.  Now they just have to get consistent.  So worried about the character length? Come up with a system. My suggestion is to use hashtagging. When Pete is actually tweeting end the tweet with #shumlin (there are no search results for that yet) and when it is the campaign staff tweeting use #teamshumlin.  Stop random hashtagging like “#BernieSander and #Putney and focus on using the “@” where appropriate (@senatorsanders), stick to #VT and  #BTV when appropriate. No need to hashtag #green either.  Remember these are about helping people search for Twitter content OR to get consistency in posting information. Each campaign should come up with some issues tags as well.  For example in the rail system conversation you missed an opportunity to hashtag #vtrail. These are nuances, but they can make a huge difference.

Oh, and also get that Twitter feed ported into your site NOW.  Don’t want to lose this content and not a lot of Vermonters on are on the Twitters but they might go to your site, so give them an idea of what you are doing with Twitter and how you are connecting with people using that tool.

YouTube, Flickr and LinkedIn

Content, content, content. Use text to describe (nice keywords, like the full name of the candidate, and the issue, concern, idea the image, video represents). Keep things up to date.  I can’t figure out why the new ad isn’t up on YouTube yet. Also Peter you should take a 1/2 hour and update that LinkedIn profile with some real content.  Your campaign staff is doing an interesting job with the “organization” page and that has promise. Not sure I’d focus the resources there at this point though. Get the bio and information consistent among all the properties first and invest more time in blog content.

Social Media Recommendations:

Keep up the good work with Twitter. Get focused and create stronger content on a blog — and get a real blog going. Not sure how to do that? Not sure what to write? You are not alone and my next post will get at the heart of what I see to be the big issue with all of the candidates in this race for the Democratic nomination.  I can’t say it enough. Add value add value add value add value. You do this through content and engaging with people around the content.  This campaign has got a great start on doing this with Twitter.  Now they need to do this with Facebook and with their main campaign site.

Final Thoughts:

Um…write stuff.  Write good stuff. Don’t wait for the traditional media to publish it for you. Go straight to the people and get them to share, retweet, link and like it. But this, my friends you have all read from me before.