Social media and politics: A discussion with the governor
I’m taking a course in social media marketing strategy at the U of D, with four thought-leader instructors. One of them, Holly Norton, had the social media connections to arrange a teleconference (more precisely, a Google hangout) with Jack Markell, the governor of this state – a great opportunity to gain insights from a politician who has been faced by crises as enormous as Superstorm Sandy during his term, and prioritizes social media in his messaging. While the conversation was guided by questions posed by the class, two key takeaways were clear:
Focus your messaging. Be authentic.
The first is that Mr. Markell’s social media communication is clearly defined. He speaks as governor, and his platforms do not include comment on policy decisions outside his direct sphere – for example, he steers clear of federal government issues. The governor speaks for himself as an elected public official, taking a leadership role and initiating conversations on matters that affect his constituents and agenda. He doesn’t hesitate to address controversial matters of community interest that fall within his rubric (for example, the STAR campus in Newark). His communications via social media are clear, directed, and focused on community relations and issues where he believes he can make a difference.
Know when to bring in the pros.
The second major takeaway was that Jack Markell has a clear understanding of the importance of social media and supports these platforms fully – and knows that he needs the assistance of an adept social media advisor. Timing, details, and adhering to an established communication platform are critical, and today’s social media environment demands the management of a dedicated professional. Theoretically, at a bare minimum, an advisor must ensure a client’s image is consistently maintained across major channels (see the fallout that resulted when politician Rob Ford was unable to contain social media damage). In the case of Jack Markell, his advisor, Kelly, makes sure the governor’s agenda and causes are communicated clearly and that conversations are managed across channels in an effective, appropriate, proactive manner.
The image of a public person can hold great power, and the intermediary who communicates a portrait helps define the leader we see. Jack Markell is engaged, and seen to be engaged, because he embraces social media. He also clearly recognizes that professional social media guidance is crucial to communicating his message as part of an overall philosophy and strategy.