UPDATED, 3:45 p.m. EDT, Aug. 19, 2009
There’s not a lot U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, agrees about with President Barack Obama. Buchanan voted against the stimulus program, and he wants nothing to do with health care reform proposals touted by Obama and the Democrats.
But Buchanan and his staff have been paying attention as Obama has harnessed new Internet tools – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the like – first to help him get elected and now to govern.
Buchanan - at the prompting of his social-media-savvy children - is following a similar script. He and his staff aggressively use social media applications, especially Facebook, to connect directly with constituents, free of the filters – or balancing perspectives – that newspapers and other traditional media might apply to the message.
For example, when Buchanan wanted to notify the public about a town hall meeting he will be hosting Thursday at Braden River High School, he e-mailed a news release to the Bradenton Herald and other media.
Simultaneously, Buchanan posted the news on his Facebook page, giving his more than 2,600 “fans” – that’s Facebook-speak for those who follow Buchanan via the site – a chance to respond immediately to the announcement.
“Thank You Congressman! I hope everyone that attends, whatever Party you belong to, makes this a good meaningful discussion and brings their good ideas/ behavior too!” wrote one fan.
Deciding what to post on Facebook or Twitter is a "team effort" by Buchanan and his senior staff, and the postings are handled by a new media staff person in Sarasota. The goal is to make "tweet" or "status update" consistent with Buchanan's overall message, said Sally Tibbetts, the congressman's press secretary and district director.
"The congressman makes it a priority to communicate with his constituents, and this is another vehicle," Tibbetts said.
Tibbetts said Buchanan frequently visits the sites, and on occasion will actually post an item.
"It was at his direction that we started this," said Tibbetts, after his children encouraged Buchanan to take advantage of social media applications.
Obama may have had the winning message in 2008, but almost as instructive is how he delivered it. His campaign used Web 2.0 tools to bypass traditional media, and deliver the message he wanted and to mobilize his supporters into action. Obama’s administration has picked up where the campaign left off, using the same techniques to advocate for health care reform and other items on the president’s agenda.
“I don’t think there is any doubt that people are going to model what the Obama campaign did because the results are very clear and it’s obviously effective,” says Andrew Lipsman, senior analyst at comScore, in a story published in July at DigitalMediaBuzz.com.
Other local politicians have also gotten the message. For example,the campaigns of three of the four Republicans running in state House District 67 – Jeremiah Guccione, Robert McCann and Greg Steube – each have a presence on Facebook.
Buchanan’s Facebook page – www.facebook.com/CongressmanBuchanan - includes photographs of the congressman at work in Washington and back home in the 13th Congressional District; videos of news interviews and speeches ; and “status updates,” in which Buchanan, in Twitter-like fashion, informs fans on what’s he doing at a given moment or solicits feedback on a specific issue.
“Six months ago, Congress passed a $1 trillion spending bill to stimulate the economy,” Buchanan wrote Tuesday. “ In your opinion, was the stimulus bill worth the cost?”
As of Wednesday morning, more than 60 people had responded.
Tibbetts said constituents - of all ages - have responded enthusiastically to the congressman's use of social media. Buchanan also has a Twitter feed, and has set up a “channel” on You Tube. “Vern-TV,” if you will, where he has posted videos of his speeches from the House floor and other appearances.
Anything less, says a digital media expert, and politicians may find themselves obsolete.
“What (Obama) did with his campaign changed the game,” says Devora Rogers, senior content manager at IPG Emerging Media Lab, in the DigitalMediaBuzz.com story. “From now on that’s going to be the minimum that people have to do. They have to have their Web site, they have to have their social media down pat, they have to have a totally integrated campaign with radio, TV, web, social media, Twitter. Those are the new rules.”