Social Media and Politics: Risks and Rewards

Social Media and Politics: Risks and Rewards

by Chris Palermo


social media association politicsWhile social media is an incredibly powerful tool in the political space, it is important that it be managed and monitored closely.

That was the general consensus of four experts who spoke at the recent Social Media Association meeting, discussing Uses and Misuses in Political Campaigns. Donna Rivera-Downey, chief marketing and communications officer for the Girl Scout of Nassau County, moderated the panel discussion.

“Politicians should not be on Twitter,” said Brendan Stanton, a communications consultant, with experience in crisis and litigation communications. “They don’t speak the language, and they don’t understand how things work. That’s why we’re here.

“My golden rule is simply: You’re not allowed on it,” he said.

Each of the panelists touted the advantages that come with social media; but – as all four were also early adopters of various forms of social media in their personal lives – each was painfully aware of the risks and responsibilities ensuring the channels are used correctly.

“Social media has revolutionized how we communicate with people,” said Chris Schneider, director of communications for New York State Senator Jack Martins. “The speed we’re able to communicate today is not like anything we’ve had before.

“You don’t have to convince the politicians that it’s important to be on social media today,” he added. “You have to convince them how to use it effectively.”


“Obviously, people know the story about Anthony Weiner,” said Justin Meyers, assistant deputy county executive for communications. “That’s certainly an example of how not to use social media as a politician.”

Another example provided was Kirby Delauter, a city council member from Maryland, who – when learning he would be quoted in a reporter’s article, took to Facebook to call out the reporter and threaten her with a lawsuit (he has since apologized).

And, on a far less egregious scale, but still troubling, Schneider brought up New York State Senator Craig Johnson who exchanged tweets with a celebrity journalist on a not-safe-for-work topic. As Schneider said, even though it was funny, it still opened up the possibility of whether this politician was engaging in this behavior during working hours (as well as a host of other, potentially troubling, concerns).

This is not to say there aren’t some politicians using social media successfully (see Cory Booker, as the panel unanimously agreed), but they also agreed social media is easily one of the most dangerous parts of politics today.

“You really don’t want politicians at the controls,” said Schneider. “That’s not to say you want a sterile, stripped down persona, either. My boss went to a Mets game with his family, snapped a selfie, and we put that up. There’s a way to capture the person’s voice without having them at the controls.”

Meyers agreed: “If you can’t capture the voice of the politician, you’re not doing your job. That’s why we’re here.”


Most social media professionals today are well aware of the varied tools available to make the process far more efficient. Tools such as Hootsuite were praised by the panel.

“I would not have posted as frequently without a tool like Hootsuite,” said Stanton.

But, as Meyers said, “There’s only so much scheduling of information you can do. Social media is about communicating immediately. You have to be able to quickly get a message out about the hot topic of the moment.

“That’s how you keep your audience engaged.”

Tim Hurley, new media specialist at Gerstman Schwartz & Malito, a government relations and litigation law firm, spoke about the importance of measurement and targeting.

“Twitter is absolutely incredible,” he said. “You can’t operate in the political space without Twitter.”

“And, if you sign up for Twitter ads – you don’t even have to be using it – you’ll get access to all the metrics available: views, retweets, favorites. You can get the same thing with Facebook Insights, and, if you decide to use Facebook ads (which have been very successful for us), you can use those analytics to drill down and target the exact demographics you want to appeal to.”


Across the board, the panelists were unanimous in their praise for social media and the impact it’s had on communication in the political space. There are certainly precautions (“We’re monitoring the various channels all the time!” said Schneider) but as communications professionals, they are well suited to handle the risks that come with the platform.

“In the end, if you invest in social media, it pays back amazing dividends,” said Meyers.


About the Author

Chris Palermo is a strategic communications executive with specialized experience in the fields of internal communications, employee engagement, corporate culture and social media. He is a strategic adviser to senior leadership on communications and overall business strategies. His use of social media channels on an enterprise level has improved overall employee engagement by more than 70 percent, year over year, with powerful, innovative and compelling content that stresses transparency and authentic dialogue. From an operations perspective, his initiatives have reduced internal emails by more than 80 percent through the use of social intranets and community management.


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