Thursday, December 27, 2012

Let's Talk Business

Eighteen months ago, I participated in an Election Assistance Commission roundtable webcast related to social media.

All of the panel participants, and many of the viewers and followers, knew that social media was  emerging as a tool for election administrators.  It was in its infancy in the 2008 presidential election and 2012 was expected to be big, really big.

Twitter, for instance, launched in 2006 and was just finding its way in 2008.  Speaking of Twitter, you may have heard that the close of the 2012 election resulted in the message that was retweeted the most IN HISTORY.

I learned this during the PEW Voting in America Conference earlier this month.  I was thrilled to see Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter take the stage, but I was less enthused about the collective message.  Frankly, I'm not sure there was a message.

PEW's David Becker kicks off a much-anticipated
panel discussion related to social media and
election administration.  Representatives (l-r) were
from Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter.
Doug Chapin of the Humphrey School of
Public Administration moderated.
Stick with me--this is tough love, raising the bar, expecting more, that kind of thing.  To the point I raised during the roundtable webcast, it's time to take social media in election administration from a hobby to something more useful, with a grander vision.

And, for that, we need the social media companies to be leaders.

Four years ago, such a moment on stage would have been palpitating, for me at least.  "Oh my gosh, on my gosh, can you believe Facebook sent someone to meet with us!"

But now, I've changed.

It's not them, it's me.  They were enthusiastic and very pleasant.

I'm jaundiced, I guess, but talking about a presidential tweet outpacing Justin Bieber as the most retweeted message over any in the last six years is a yawner.  I also read recently that the finale of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," was the most talked about Bravo Housewife episode IN HISTORY as well, but history doesn't mean much when the beginning of time is a year that begins with a "20."

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 by 2012.  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.

The Fangirl days are over, in my view.  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.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Yes. I found it disconcerting that each of the panelists had useful stories and insight to share - and didn't. I think it was a basic misjudging of the audience; election officials, as a group, do not need to be convinced that social media is powerful and can do such things as transcend geography. We need to learn how to harness it within our geography. Nearly every election official that I know is a closet Facebook-checker, but few see a path from Point A to Point B to use it effectively to reach voters in their own county. And with all due respect to the panelists, we have more than enough people grabbing our lapels and bending our ears to wax philosophic on whether voters will someday be casting ballots on the Internet <*eyeroll*>; what we want to hear is what *your tool* can offer *now* to help meet *my* business needs.

Election Diary said...

Alysoun, I agree. I think it's most insightful when you say they all had useful stories to share but didn't. I think, as election officials, we almost need to dare people to talk above us in this space because I don't think they can. We're much more aligned on the fast track than they may think.