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Nadworny: Using Social Media

(Host) Digital strategist and commentator Rich Nadworny thinks that it's not surprising that politicians flock to social media. But once there, many are realizing, painfully, that the medium is not what they're used to.

(Nadworny) Recently Governor Peter Shumlin found himself in the middle of a mild social media brouhaha. His Twitter feed posted a picture of the Governor at the Tunbridge World Fair with the caption: The Tunbridge World's Fair is in full swing through the weekend.

It's great that the Governor uses his social media channels to promote Vermont events. The only problem was that Governor Shumlin wasn't in Vermont at the time, although the picture led people to believe he was. And that raised charges that Shumlin was being deceptive.

From a  crisis communication standpoint, it doesn't come close to someone on the Chrysler account tweeting that no one [in Detroit] can [expletive] drive - which also happened recently. But it does illustrate the challenges for politicians, and companies, of navigating this new medium.

Here's the rub: on Facebook and Twitter, people expect a high level of transparency, higher than in traditional media. They also expect that when someone, or some brand makes a mistake, they act on it quickly. The cost of not doing so can result in an ongoing swirl that damages reputation and trust.

And that brings us back to how politicians should use social media. Most use it for campaign purposes, to get their message out and encourage people to vote for them. The challenge for the winners is what to do with it once they've won. For example, the Governor's social media channels are in constant campaign mode. He and his staff use it most to highlight and promote the Governor himself rather than to engage in meaningful two-way communication with Vermonters.

But some of our politicians have made that shift - like Senator Bernie Sanders, the most popular Washington congress person on social media. His one-man filibuster lead to his own hashtag, #FiliBernie. Sanders has used the medium to ask Vermonters for their Irene stories, stories he then used in the Senate. That's a good two-waycommunication.

Closer to home, our new mayor in Burlington, Miro Weinberger, uses social media to let people know where he is so he can meet with his constituents. It's a smart way to use the digital tool to connect with people in real life. I sometimes offer free advice or what I call social media therapy to Mayor Weinberger's social media team and I encourage them to find more innovative ways they can use social media to involve people in the political process.

We're spoiled in Burlington in that some of our city council members Tweet liberally during city council meetings - allowing slackers like me to watch and participate from the comfort of our homes.

Politicians, like brands, need to realize that no normal person would choose to listen to someone blather on endlessly about him or herself. And that's true whether you're on Twitter or meeting someone in real life.

Rich Nadworny is a designer who resides in Burlington and Stockholm.
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