Michigan Lawmakers Aren’t Tweeting, Yet

The state Capitol newsletter, MIRS, recently wrote an article about Michigan legislators using Facebook and Twitter — or perhaps it’s better to say it’s about how they aren’t using those two social networking sites.

I think it’s clear from the article that some legislators, like Rep. Barb Byrum, get it and some, like Rep. Wayne Schmidt, don’t. As I said in the article, it’s probably going to take a few good wins under their belt that can be attributed to the use of social media and social networking before the two major political parties realize this is something they can’t ignore. On the other hand, perhaps having them ignore it long enough for a third-party candidate to make good use of it and swoop in to office wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all!

I’m reprinting the article here, which normally is available only via subscription. Because of that, indulge me while I make a quick pitch that for people who want to know what’s going on in Michigan government, both out front and behind the scenes, a MIRS subscription is one of the best investments you can make.

Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, Page Two:

70% Of Lawmakers Use Facebook, 20% Tweet
A strong majority in both the House and Senate have pages on the social networking site Facebook, but the “Twitter” fad has yet to catch on as strong, with only 20 percent of lawmakers registered to that Web site and even fewer using the medium regularly.

A review of both social networking sites by MIRS revealed that at least 24 Senators and 80 members of the House are on Facebook. Only nine Senators and 21 House members are on Twitter.

The legislators’ use of both of these sites vary wildly, however, from Rep. Barb BYRUM‘s (D-Onondaga) expansive list of 377 followers on Twitter and multi-day “tweet” postings to lawmakers who appeared to have set up a Twitter account, then done little else.

But according to Michigan State University instructor Ari ADLER, these numbers are bound to go up as incoming legislators take advantage of this free way to connect with, check-in with and update more constituents.

“This is the modern-day version of the grassroots movement,” Adler said. “It’s not about organizing people in the neighborhoods. That’s still important, but the on-line community is the new neighborhood, so to speak.”

A growing number of people are learning they can share information faster and easier by publishing their own commentary on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. That’s good for politicians, who used to be at the mercy of the news media to get their message out. Now, politicians can print whatever information they want the world to see, he said.

The only cost, he said, is time. Those wanting to use social media to get a message out do need to set aside some time in a given day to get their message out, Adler said. Also, he added, it helps if the politician puts up the posts as opposed to staffers doing it.

“It’s about a conversation,” he said. “It’s not a broadcast medium.”

Adler said the success of Byrum’s Twitter and Facebook page is that she updates it several times a day and mixes in funny anecdotes from her day (on Monday she cut six inches off her hair) with news about her coffee hours.

“I think it’s important that elected officials are accountable and it’s important for people to know what we’re up to,” said Byrum, who can update her status as much as 12 times a day. “It’s also important to communicate with people through the medium they feel more comfortable using. For some, this is the way they prefer to contact me.”

To avoid any conflict with House rules, Byrum said she posts all of her tweets and Facebook updates on her personal phone.

Rep. Wayne SCHMIDT (R-Traverse City) recently signed up to Twitter and has 21 “followers.”

He said he’s trying out the new way to update people on his activities, but said finding the time for it and balancing what he posts will be the biggest challenge.

“E-mails replaced memos and letters. Instant messaging and texting replaced the telephone call. ‘Tweeting’ doesn’t really replace anything,” Schmidt said. “It’s a ‘Hey, here’s what I’m doing.’ It’s a huge time suck.”

“Quite frankly, I don’t think my friends care if I’m in the grocery store. But my constituents may care if I’m at the Kalkaska Fair.”

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