November 20, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Two thoughts on Tuesday

Two thoughts on Tuesday

First, Congress and Twitter…yet again.

I’m sure most people would think that there’s nothing new to say on this topic, but I’m of a contrarian view on this, so here goes. I don’t think there’s much value at all in Members of Congress tweeting, and the furor surrounding this non-issue was perplexing.

There are a few things of note:

Even though the correspondence that laid out the issue was made public, a number of people in social media got the issue completely backwards. It was tweeted, and then followers picked up the rallying cry and never fact-checked. Even when this was pointed out, it continued on with the “let our congress members tweet” bandwagon. So, I’m asking here: was this intentional, or a lack of comprehension? If it’s intentional, picking up the hot issue of the day and throwing gas on the fire contrary to the facts at hand, it’s deplorable behavior. If it’s a lack of comprehension, then social media needs more critical thinkers and fewer reactionaries who are so easily led astray.

The few members who are tweeting say it’s a quick and easy way to stay in touch with constituents, and to make them “more accessible.” I’d like to know how they are so sure that they are tweeting back and forth with constituents; I think it’s highly likely that most of the people following them and tweeting with them aren’t residents of their districts. Personally, if I discovered that my MOC was tweeting back and forth with people who aren’t constituents (no matter how valid their views/questions/tweets) I’d be annoyed. I’d be even more annoyed if I had an issue that needed attention in district and discovered this. It’s likely more of a “cool” factor, and an attempt to prove they can keep up with changing communications tools. Fine, you know how to tweet, how about fixing the sub-prime mess?

I’m sure there are many who feel that it’s worthwhile for members to communicate with citizens outside their districts, and I’m equally sure that some moderately useful insight can be gained from such (limited) exchanges. But, members are elected to represent their constituents–all of them. Even those who did not vote for the member deserve equal treatment and attention when it comes to listening and access to the member. If the member is spending his or her time communicating with non-constituents, it’s that much less time spent on issues pertaining to their district. Also, this isn’t the way our government was set up, for good reason. Direct democracies don’t work on this scale.  Read Federalist #10.

How far we’ve come from that document to the current free-for-all.

Second, and related…

The “piling on” response to the Twitter/Congress story needs to be closely examined: some introspection is called for here. This sort of behavior–creating a ruckus, ignoring the facts–is what makes corporations and some communicators question the value of social media. And those who have a lot of “followers” have a responsibility to act as a stopping point for these topics before they get out of control. It’s in their interest, isn’t it, to ensure that social media isn’t written off completely? This issue will pass, because it had to do with politics, and people have almost come to expect discourse to go completely downhill because of it. If it happens a few times to major brands, the credibility of social media will erode.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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