Ruth McGowan OAM, a consultant in local government and former Councillor and Mayor at Baw Baw Shire 2007 – 2011 offers some useful reflections on social media in politics.
Social media is a great way to connect councillors with constituents through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. As a councillor, it allows you to have a conversation with those you’ve been elected to serve, without having to go through traditional media such as the local newspaper. It’s also a great way of ‘tuning in’ to listen to your community’s concerns and issues.
Here I share some things I have learnt about social media; both from my own experience and observing some of the predicaments of other elected officials:
It’s a good idea to first check your council’s social media or communications policy so you ‘follow the rules’ on posting on social media. For example, there may be council issues that only your mayor or CEO are able to speak on. Also, in the beginning, if you need help to develop your skills, seek training or support from savvy users. Teenagers are brilliant at this. 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 from you on what you are doing, so people feel connected. A scheduling tool is a great help.
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. Use one or two platforms and do them well. 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, but it’s not without its risks.
The world of social media is constantly evolving and it’s a powerful tool for councillors to stay in touch with their constituents. However, increasingly women need to be aware of the risks that can come from being more visible on social media. While it allows for immediacy, informality and productive interaction, social media can also be a forum for anonymous ‘trolls’, people who post inflammatory messages to be provocative or negatively attack you. Bullying and hate campaigns can run freely on social media.
Consider these key points to protect yourself against social media risks.
1) Keep your private life separate. On Facebook, create a new page for your councillor role, as a public figure, under ‘politician’. Keep your councillor page separate to your personal page and leave that just for friends and family. Set the privacy settings on your councillor page to a level you are comfortable with. For example, you can ensure people’s comments are approved by you before appearing on your feed, or that you need to say ‘yes’ before you can be tagged in any photos.
2) Pause. Think before you write a post or a tweet, or before you share someone else’s comment. Never say anything you would not like to see on the front page of your local newspaper. Rude comments sent back in the heat of the moment to someone who has tried to insult you, can impact on your reputation and community standing.
3) Think before you click. Beware of ‘spear phishing’ where cybercriminals try to trick you into clicking on an infectious attachment or visit a malicious website so they can get sensitive information or hold you to ransom with a locked computer. If you are hacked, report the cybercrime to ACORN https://report.acorn.gov.au/
4) Take control. If you are being harassed or bullied on your social media or on your council phone, block, delete and report the person to your council and to the eSafety Commissioner. https://www.esafety.gov.au/complaints-and-reporting
Social media is certainly a wonderful way to connect with your constituents, particularly when 2017 statics show that eight out of ten Australians use social media. However, stay safe and be mindful of the steps you can take to stay in control and safe online.