Sunday, June 17, 2012

Social Media Caucus At The Democratic State Convention

by Michael Handley

Last week, at the 2012 Democratic State Convention in Houston, I attended the Social Media Caucus. This well attended panel discussion was chaired by Democratic activist and citizen editorialist, Rachel Farris (@meanrachel) who writes Mean Rachel, a popular progressive blog that covers perspective and satire on Texas and national politics.

Rachel kicked off the caucus by interviewing Texas State Senator Kirk Watson (@kirkpwatson) who explained how as a legislator and candidate he effectively uses Twitter and other social media to open and maintain discussions with his constituents.

Texas State Senator Kirk Watson and Rachel Farris discuss the Senator's #AskKW Twitter chat channel

Sen. Watson writes his own blog/e-newsletter the Watson Wire, and has a large following on both his political and personal Facebook pages.

His website – – is plugged into his Facebook and Twitter pages and he recently started experimenting with a comment function where, if people log in, they can leave their thoughts and questions, to which Senator Watson can respond.

Senator Watson understands that social media can be used to inform his constituents about the issues. But Sen. Watson is also learning that social media is even more powerful because it can be used as a two-way communication channel to have regular conversations with large numbers of voters at one time. Using Twitter, or other social media platforms, politicians like Senator Watson can have regular conversations with voters that are as effective as phone and door canvassing.

Unfortunately, candidates themselves do not have the time to call or visit many voters at home – one person at a time. And phone and door canvassing contact with individual voters is usually just a one-time conversation per election cycle. Recruiting enough volunteer or paid campaign workers to engage enough voters one by one to swing an election is also difficult – especially for first time novice candidates. Phone and door canvassing can only be done only one voter at a time, but using social media, politicians can converse with many people at a time, as Senator Watson discusses in the video.

Just as a candidate personally knocking on doors and making phone calls to talk to voters wins more votes than interns, volunteers or paid canvassers might win talking to people at those same homes, so a candidate personally engaging people in social media conversation will win more votes than novice volunteers tweeting. Additionally, the increasing prevalence of "cell phone- only" households is making traditional landline-based political canvassing activities obsolete.

When it comes to building relationships with voters, social media services like YouTube, iTunes Podcasts, Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter are communication channels that can be as effective as spending millions of dollars on traditional TV, Radio and Print media market buys. It is just as important to prepare a carefully thought out message communication plan for social media as it is for a multimillion dollar traditional TV, Radio and Print media market buy.

Tweeting is not just for candidates! Party leaders can just as effectively use Twitter, and other social media channels, to regularly engage in conversations with the base of Texas Democrats. Over time these conversations with grassroots Democrats can expand, motivate and empower Democrats to both support the party and vote on election day.

Next on the Social Media Caucus agenda after Senator Watson, Rachel moderated a social media panel discussion among professional and citizen journalists. from left Rachel Farris, Scott Braddock, Charles Kuffner and Michael Li

The panel (picture above from left) included Rachel Farris, Scott Braddock, (@scottbraddock) a well-known Texas radio journalist and commentator who also writes his Voice of Texas blog, Charles Kuffner (@kuff) who writes his Off the Kuff blog, Michael Li, (@mcpli) a Dallas lawyer who specializes in election law and who writes his Texas Redistricting blog, and Peter Salinas, Vice President of the Hidalgo County Young Democrats organization that uses Social Media for community outreach.

Scott Braddock, a well-known Texas radio reporter, lost his job last March after airing excerpts from an interview with Carolyn Jones, who was “forced to undergo several medically unnecessary transvaginal sonograms to obtain an abortion” due to Texas’ new sonogram law, and whose personal account of the entire ordeal was chronicled in the Texas Observer.

Citizen journalists are members of the public who "play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, fact checking and disseminating news and information," according to the seminal 2003 report, "We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information.

A robust, free press has been viewed by many as an essential check on government and business since the early days of the Republic. “The only security of all is in a free press,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1823. Nearly 60 years ago, the Supreme Court declared that "the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is essential to the condition of a free society."

In 1910, nearly 60% of cities had competing daily papers, but today that completion of viewpoints has all but disappeared. Unfortunately, media consolidation over the past twenty years has taken its toll on the "widest possible dissemination of information as an essential check on government and business."

Through successive acquisitions and mergers a few massive multinational media conglomerates controlled by conservative owners control more and more of our vital information sources – including television networks, cable channels, newspaper publishing, radio, and the Internet.

Increasingly, it is left to citizen journalists publishing on the Internet to provide the widest possible dissemination of information and viewpoint to provide the essential democratic check on government and business.

While citizen journalist bloggers and politicos use Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media communication channels to deliver issue information to voters, they have different goals. The main objective of most journalists and editorialists is to report and editorialize the news, while politicos must persuade voters to support their campaigns with contributions of money and volunteer time, and ultimately their vote. In other words, candidates and political parties use social media to build their brand and market themselves to the public to capture the largest possible share of the voting market.

The bottom line message of this article is that it is a mistake for politicos to simply imitate citizen journalist bloggers by just reporting and editorializing the news. Further more, one of the reasons candidates and political organizations who adopt social media fail to succeed lies in the fact that they fall into the Social Media Trap. Many think that just having a Facebook page and Twitter feed is a social media strategy. It is Not! Just having a presence on social media channels is not enough! You have to use it purpose! Success requires planning and executing a full voter message communication strategy that includes using social media channels.

For politicos it must be all about planning and executing a complete persuasive voter message communication strategy that uses social media and traditional media message communications channels to win over enough voters to win elections.

If you are interested to learn more about these issues, go to my website for, "Political Campaigns in the Digital Age:"

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