Social Media 101

101Does social media influence decision-makers?
“I hope that governments wake up and take notice,” said Sue Huff, an Edmonton Public School Board Trustee, when asked how governments should address the influence that social media seemingly provides. “There needs to be a willingness to share power and more genuine communication by politicians. I think people have felt very disconnected from governments.”
I got into this discussion when I brought up ChangeCamp Edmonton. After hearing about ChangeCamp in Toronto, I invited some locals to participate on a steering committee with the intent of holding a similar event here. I’m proud to say that on October 17th at U of A’s Lister Hall, Edmontonians will get a chance to participate in a day of democratic engagement. People from all levels of government and areas of society can register at changecampedmonton.ca for this free event.
I believe ChangeCamp will help citizens discover, discuss and engage in debate over key issues that pertain to their lives. Further, it is a demonstration of our ability to self-organize and create a construct that allows for deep conversations about how to enable government to serve us better. Huff liked the idea too, “ChangeCamp seems to be based on the wisdom of the crowd.”
I talked with her about many things social media-related. She believes that “influence goes both ways and I’d like to think I’m influencing public opinion in some way.” I wondered if this exchange of ideas online translated back to the Board of Trustees. Huff provided an example: She researched information she received on Twitter and her blog regarding issues around H1N1 and brought back to the board. “The things that I learn I share and that expands the knowledge of the entire board.”
Regarding whether social media has influence, many speculated online that fusedlogic’s live streaming webcast entitled The Great Edmonton Airport Debate actually influenced some on City Council when deciding the airport’s fate. I asked Councillor Kim Krushell if she had viewed the streaming video debate. Her response? Yes! Did she think that the social media activity around the airport issue influenced councillors? “Oh yeah! I do think it had influence on councillors. Bloggers directed people to e-mail… part of it was we were getting form letter e-mails from Cal Nichols’ side and personal e-mails from the NextGen crowd, complete with e-mail addresses. I found it all fascinating.”
Many are familiar with President Barack Obama’s now famous election campaign and its use of social media to influence American voters. How about closer to home? “I’m really just scratching the surface of the direct voter connection,” said Danielle Smith, who’s running for the leadership of the Wildrose Alliance Party. Phil Klein, father of former Premier Ralph Klein has joined Smith’s party. “The first thing I did was ask if I could put it out on Twitter,” she said. She admits, “I don’t have a blog yet, I’m not sure I will… being so busy, I like the efficiency of Twitter.
“We don’t have a very functional democracy here in Alberta. Decisions are being made out of the blue. From a policy point of view, the point of Twitter is to have direct connections—un-distilled commentary from average people.” Smith offered further, “Ralph Klein continued to be reachable.” Referencing that direct connection capability that Twitter provides, I mentioned that Premier Ed Stelmach has two Twitter accounts, and asked hypothetically if she ever become premier would she continue to use Twitter herself. Smith replied, “It’s obvious that the premier is not using Twitter himself. My intention is to continue to monitor what’s being said online. Should I win the leadership race, I would propose that Wildrose integrate social media into our operations at the policy level.”
So does social media influence decision-makers? Clearly, in different ways and at different levels, the answer is yes. How much depends on the situation and the issue at hand. There seems to be experiential evidence to suggest that this trend will only grow. As we get nearer to the day of ChangeCamp Edmonton—coincidently, the day Smith finds out if she won her leadership race—I’m sure that social media will play a part in whether some of you come out to offer some cool ideas for government to consider.
Repurposing Sue Huff’s comment, I agree with her and hope that governments take notice and come out chat with us average Albertans. “Let social media continue to lend power to the people.” √

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Explore posts in the same categories: Edmonton Tech Community, Social Networking, Walter Schwabe

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