Now you're a councillor

Now you're a councillor

A site for women councillors in Victorian local government

A great way to engage…

Ruth McGowan, former Councillor and Mayor at Baw Baw Shire 2007 – 2011 offers some useful reflections on social media in politics.

“Social media connects councillors and constituents on a personal and interactive level.  It allows you to drive the conversation, without the say-so of traditional media.  You can bypass the local newspaper and connect directly with those you’re elected to serve.

Blogs, Web pages, Twitter and Facebook are a great way to stay in touch, to run campaigns and to be accountable to residents; but this increased visibility brings with it a number of risks.  While it allows for immediacy, informality and productive interaction, social media can also be a forum for anonymous and insensitive critics.  Bullying and hate campaigns can run freely on social media.  Think before you tweet or post, remember hateful remarks can rebound badly on the sender.

The golden rule is: Never say anything you would not like to see on the front page of your local newspaper.

When I was first standing for council, I developed a website in order to communicate who I was, what I stood for, what I was doing around the ward and how I could be contacted.  Once elected, I continued to keep this website updated and would regularly post articles I’d written for community newsletters and things like my monthly Mayoral Minute and general snippets of interest to constituents.  One useful section was the constantly-changing, Frequently Asked Questions section, depending on the hot issues of the time.

As a councillor I also developed a “Cr Ruth McGowan” Facebook page (separate to my own personal one for friends and family only) so that I could link into other community groups and post activities or items of interest on my page.  Since that time, other types of social media like blogs, twitter, instagram, pinterest etc. and have come into prominence.  I didn’t use these tools as a councillor but I’ve seen them used quite effectively by other public figures.

Here are some things I have learnt about social media from my own personal experience and observing some of the predicaments of other elected officials:

  • Social media can be a wonderful tool but needs to be ‘fed’ to keep it relevant.  That may mean daily and at least weekly updates so people feel connected.
  • Time management is the key to ensure it doesn’t take you away from your main objectives; don’t get carried away or distracted by endless chit chat or conversations that are not worth the effort.
  • Keep your councillor Facebook page separate to your personal one.
  • It takes skill to master so get some training if you are unsure. Teenagers are brilliant for this!
  • See if you can set up your Facebook page or blog sites to moderate comments before they are posted.  That way you aren’t spending time dealing with nasty comments that can damage your reputation (these are often posted by anonymous ‘trolls’, people who post inflammatory messages in order to be provocative or negatively attack you).

Beware of sending tweets that are defamatory or could be considered to be harassing or threatening as this can land you in hot water and have legal implications.

Once published, those 140 characters or less can get you into a lot of trouble so think carefully before you tweet (or re-tweet).

Social media is a great way to engage in conversations with constituents who are not being reached through the traditional channels of council consultation or local newspapers.  The world of social media is constantly evolving and there is always something new to try.  While there are risks inherent in online social networking, there are also many potential benefits that make it a powerful tool for councillors to stay in touch with their constituents.”