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Monday, July 13, 2009

Constituent Communication

A little over a year ago I signed up for a Facebook account after receiving an invitation from now 1st District Councilman Robert Garcia. At the time Robert was one of the publisher's of the Long Beach Post and I was a contributor to the site; I wrote about the Facebook invitation and the technological gap between my generation (47) and Robert's (31) in a post titled "Tech Savy, Culturally Naive." Since that post in June 2008 we have seen a Presidential candidate leverage the available technology to promote his campaign to deliver messages and collect cash, and we have seen Garcia photocopy Barack Obama's campaign playbook and win a crowded contest for his seat on the Long Beach City Council. Using the exponential math of degrees of separation social media sites like Facebook and MySpace, and to some degree the more business oriented site LinkedIn, connect friends of friends of friends to new friends.

As an experiment and an excuse to gather friends together, in March I used my Facebook page to create and launch a barbecue at our home. "Stuftivus" was a great time with fourteen people who did not know each other but knew me or Leslie or both--but had communicated through comments made on my Facebook page. As the party got started and people showed up it was if they were walking into a high school reunion, I vaguely remember you, let's catch up. And it was a great time, friends of my mine became friends with friends of a friend. Degrees of separation were lifted. Now many of these people now communicate directly and their circles have gotten a bit bigger and the world a bit smaller.

Last week the Facebook home pages of thousands of people across the country and across the globe had several postings from friends, or friends of friends, announcing Councilman Garcia's placing on the Long Beach City Council's agenda an Equal Benefits Ordinance. The Equal Benefits Ordinance, or EBO, would require contractors bidding on city contracts who offer benefits to their employees and their spouses to also offer those same benefits to employees who are in domestic partnerships (more information available on Garcia's website). While I am opposed to our cash strapped and broke city adding any more costs to doing business in a city that is already notoriously unfriendly to businesses, I am not using this space to debate the merits of the proposal and the merits of opposition. My positions on gay rights are on public display so any who take my position on the issue as anti-gay is ignorant of my stance, my position is from that of a business owner, a citizen of a city that has been mismanaged for years and the over-extension of government.

That all said, the issue I want to address is how Garcia is changing government in our city with his presentation of this issue to the public, using his Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts, and those of his staffers, to announce the EBO at tomorrow's city council meeting. With a drip of announcements on all their pages, and encouraging their friends and contacts to show up at the city council meeting, to write letters to the offices of other council members and the mayor, the message and the news spreads quickly through the on-line communities.

Garcia's use of the social media to distribute his policies and news from his office is very cost effective and efficient. Facebook and other similar sites have no charge to users, revenue is generated from advertising. With a few moments of staff time and a few clicks Garcia's staff is able to saturate multiple websites and communicate with several thousand people--directing all of them to Garcia's website, not paid for or controlled by the city. Using the technology that his generation is dependent upon to communicate with friends, get news, express themselves and their opinions, allows Garcia to target his supporters and their circles of friends and acquaintances. By by-passing the traditional media, or putting it in second or third position for getting news, Garcia is going directly to voters and supporters without the filters of reporters and editors.

Garcia is the youngest person on the Long Beach City Council and he is showing his elder peers on the council how to communicate with their younger constituents. Constituents who do not have home telephones, do not typically subscribe to the local daily papers and who spend more time surfing their social media sites to see what their friends and acquaintances are posting and reading than seeking out news stories on their own. Garcia's messages and notices are an active part of the social media exchanges within the Long Beach area, and the results were seen first in his election in April and will most likely be seen tomorrow night at the city council meeting where the seats will be filled because of his agenda item for an Equal Benefits Ordinance.

Since my self-deprecating post last June I have become much more in tune with using Facebook and Twitter (my Twitter here), though I have struggled with separation of my personal and business uses--Twitter is almost solely business postings of rates and economic news through the day, while Facebook is much more of a personal and social site for me. Using the social media I have seen how effective it can be in engaging others in discussion or for supporting an event or cause. The communication to multitudes through a quick sentence and posting a link is very effective and at times empowering.

Garcia is considered on the cutting edge with many in the "old guard" of politics and government, but rather than cutting edge he is very much mainstream for his generation and the way they interact and communicate with each other. Using their available technology, provided for free, they are able to share themselves, their ideas and their causes quickly and pervasively through friends of friends of friends of friends of.....

If you, like many of my acquaintances, have been pooh-poohing Facebook and Twitter as for younger generations and not a serious means of communication, I suggest you look at the occupant of the White House and the 1st District Council seat in Long Beach as evidence of the effectiveness of properly harnessing the sites and the power they bring to your message.


1 comment:

Mark said...

Hey Dennis,

I read your post this morning. You are absolutely correct on your points about personal vs business use and how youth use social media as their learning mechanism. Most of my younger friends (masters and phd level education) don't get traditional paper. They do frequent favorite media source online and they also use twitter to keep up with news. I'm not so sure I buy the concept of broadcasting to everyone that I am going to the coffeeshop with my daughter (mainly b/c I dont think many people care) but if my friend Sherry shoots out a link to something interesting she has read, she has my full attention. Then again, people have broadcast neighborhood events that I would have otherwise missed had i not subscribed. There is an app that I downloaded onto my iphone called "instapaper" where I can quickly flag articles I am interested in reading and then read them all from one location when I get free time. So, as a mechanism to allow others to sort through all of the articles out there and flag the ones of interest, I think twitter is great. To listen to what Hanna Montana has on her mind, I could care less. The point being, you have a choice to subscribe to who you want to listen to and while I feel a pressure to "connect" with everyone i meet on linked in and facebook. I'm now rethinking that for twitter, mainly b/c i dont want to have to weed through posts to find something interesting.