Newby on Social Media in Election Administration: “Let’s Talk Business”

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[Image courtesy of socialmediainbusiness]

My friend Brian Newby had a great post on ElectionDiary over the holidays looking at a panel I moderated during Pew’s recent Voting in America conference. The panel, entitled “E-lections: Technology, Social Media, and Election Administration”, included representatives from Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft and Google discussing how their companies had been active in the 2012 election cycle and what the future holds.

In many ways, Brian is the perfect audience for such a discussion; he’s been a pioneer of using technology to reach voters in his home jurisdiction of Johnson County, KS. But his post reveals an impatience with the promise of social media and a desire to see more concrete suggestions and tools for making the most of social media in elections. The result is a blog post which is appreciative of the efforts of social media companies but also brings some “tough love” to the question of how think about it going forward [emphasis added]:

We have a common interest with these companies. They target people, usually adults. Many of these adults are potential voters. We represent content providers for them, to get the adult eyeballs they want. And for us, they represent a distribution channel to reach our voters.

It’s time we talk like this. Social media is a business. Let’s talk business.

Many of us in election administration are resource-poor, stretched thin. I have familiar relationships with many voting equipment vendors, for instance, but a deep relationship with only one.

That’s a singular example but it carries with all of our vendors. We need to be convinced, among any group of vendors, who represents the high-potential horse to ride.

It’s possible that one of the companies on the stage (or Yahoo, Amazon, or Apple, each not in attendance but whom should be paying attention, also) will be majorly declining [soon]. I probably wouldn’t bet against the staying power of Microsoft or Google, but there are plenty of social networks that have experienced dramatic half-lives since 2000.

As demonstration of the fast pace of technology change, go back four years ago–the top tech story related to president-elect Obama and his attachment to his Blackberry. Could the Secret Service pry it from his hand once he took office?

Now, as he prepares for his second term, could anyone ever convince him to actually use a Blackberry?

When such a new media panel is assembled in 2016, I’d like to see the members sell themselves against the others on the stage. Tell us specific strategies and programs that are underway, how initiatives can either drive turnout, reduce phone calls on election day, or in some way reach voters cost-effectively.

Tell us how to contact someone specific at Google, or Facebook, or Twitter, for instance, and, better, why we should want to … Election administration has become extremely more sophisticated over the last 10 years. Much more is expected of us, and we need these companies to engage with us, with their ideas, their vision.

I think it’s fair for election administrators to seek to be recruited, enrolled, and engaged by them. We have this view with other potential partners and vendors, and I believe we do ourselves a disservice thinking of social media as the shiny object in the room as opposed to expecting disciplined thinking from a maturing industry that brings potential to help our voters.

To my friends on the social media panel – take note; what Brian is saying today is something many more people will be saying soon. I’ve already begun thinking about how to answer his challenge – and you should too.

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