Votes, Photos, and Book Recommendations: How Politicians Use Facebook

From recruiting staff to contests, politicians use Facebook in innovative ways

December 14, 2010, 12:28 PM

Dec. 15, 2010— -- Politicians are using Facebook to reach constituents in innovative ways, not just to advertise their policy views, but also for everything from finding new staffers to giving their constituents a look at their personal lives.

For constituents, Facebook offers the impression of direct contact with the lawmaker, even if there's really a junior staffer sitting at the keyboard.

For some politicians, social media sites like Facebook offer the ability to tell constituents exactly what they're doing on a policy issue and why.

Before his election to Congress in November, Republican Justin Amash brought his laptop with him to the Michigan State House, where he was a legislator, to post how he voted on each bill. He plans on posting his votes once he is sworn in to the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Yeah, absolutely. Some modifications with House rules and schedule, but I will make the effort," Amash said, when asked if he will continue.

While many politicians rely on staffers to update their Facebook pages, Amash updates his Facebook page and responds to comments himself. He said, "It helps develop a personal connection."

Like Amash, many politicians are using Facebook to interact with their constituents.

"I think they're starting to realize it's where people are spending a lot of their time. It's where people go to get news and information," said Shana Glickfield, communications analyst and partner at the Beekeeper Group, a consultancy that focuses on the Internet and social media.

Facebook has become a virtual town hall; politicians are asking the people who "like" them on Facebook their stances on everything from tax cuts to North Korea.

Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Va.) posted, "Your thoughts: Is the release of classified cables threatening American foreign policy?" on Nov. 29.

Other Politicians are using Facebook to recruit staff members.

"Are you interested in being part of Colleen's team as she serves the people of Hawaii in Congress? We are looking for smart, dedicated people. Apply today," was posted to the Facebook page of Colleen Hanabusa, Democrat of Hawaii.

Politicians Recruiting Staff, Showing Personal Side on Facebook

"I discovered the opening through Facebook," said Sam Puletasi of Hawaii, who applied for a job with Hanabusa.

"Everyone had been so supportive during the campaign, so we wanted to give them the opportunity to apply and join our staff," said Annastasia Lee, Hanabusa's social media director.

Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., have both used Facebook to recruit interns.

"I think it's a new way for candidates to connect with the community -- a phenomenal opportunity," said Jake Bradshaw of Hawaii, who considered applying for a job with Hanabusa.

Enzi's Facebook page hosted a photo contest, in which users were asked to submit photographs of Wyoming. The entries were posted on Facebook for voting and the winner's photograph was posted on Enzi's website, said Elly Pickett, Enzi's Press Secretary, who is among the staff members who update his Facebook page.

Facebook has started a page, called Congress on Facebook, where it posts updates on how Congress members use the sit.

Politicians are using videos and photographs to showcase their viewpoints and show constituents their personal side.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., posted a video of himself urging others to join the Holiday Mail for Heroes program.

Enzi has posted videos wishing his constituents happy holidays.

Pickett said they post pictures of Enzi fishing, his old Eagle Scout pictures, and what he and his wife are doing. They also post book recommendations based on what the Senator has read.

"Some people don't care about his policy views, but think its [his book recommendations] are interesting. It's a different group," said Pickett.

Julie Hasquet, Press Secretary to Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said, "If is an important policy or vote, we put it out, but we want to show more about the Senator, especially what he does in Alaska. We don't want his Facebook page to be a regurgitation of press releases."

Staffers Showing Politicians' Personalities

Are you getting the real thing if you track your elected representatives online?

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., relies on her press staff to update her Facebook page, which is written in the third person, but updates her Twitter feed herself.

"On Twitter, she [Senator McCaskill] writes, reads and personally responds to dozens of tweets per week," said Laura Myron, her deputy press secretary.

"The deputy press secretary and I do the mechanics, but the Senator [Begich] stays in touch -- it's time-consuming to update, so quicker to have an e-mail exchange," said Hasquet.

Furthermore, according to Pickett, "Nothing [on Sen. Enzi's Facebook page] is in the first person." Writing in third person helps to notify constituents that a staff member is updating the page.

"It's understood the staff is going to help," said Glickfield.

"It does not bother me that staffers update pages," said Irene Lapp, a Facebook user from Wyoming.

However, some Facebook users feel that staffers should have a more limited role.

"I expect it [staffers updating Facebook pages], hence the element of distrust of all that is written on their Facebook profile," said Bryan Baird of Wyoming.

Facebook users also are concerned about staffers limiting the conversation.

Pete Shoults of Missouri said, "[Staffers] try to control what should be a two way conversation tool into propaganda."

Josh Sternberg, a former communications professor and CEO of Sternberg Strategic Communications, agreed. He said, "A lot of politicians just use social media as a broadcast mechanism."

The press staff ABC News talked to said they only delete posts and comments when they are rude or in appropriate.

"We don't edit if people disagree. People can't be malicious. That is changing the point of the page," said Wymer.

Actual Amount of Communication on Facebook Seems Limited

Despite Facebook's communication abilities, the amount of connection it actually creates seems limited.

When Rep. Forbes asked his fans how they feel about the Wikileaks, only 20 out of close to 7,000 responded.

And though Sam Puletasi found a job opening advertised on Hanabusa's page on Facebook and applied, he has not yet received a response.

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