Q and A: Andrew Krzmarzick: April 2012 | STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE

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Andrew Krzmarzick is the community manager for GovLoop, the leading online community connecting over 50,000 professionals who work in the public sector. He has written and spoken extensively about the intersection of generational diversity, social media, flexible work environments and innovative leadership.

State Legislatures: How much more widespread do you think the use of social media will be in the 2012 election?

Krzmarzick: At this stage of the game, I think it’s fair to say that social media is a critical component of any serious candidate’s communications plan. Those campaigns that fail to use social media, mobile apps, text messaging and other forms of connecting with the public will face a significant disadvantage against an opponent with a comprehensive digital engagement approach—even if that candidate has less money. For that reason, I think 2012 will show that social media has become pervasive if not completely ubiquitous among candidates for public office.

SL: Do voters consider social media a relevant source for information?

Krzmarzick: Traditional media are still the most trusted source of information about political candidates. While some bloggers have enough street cred to report on campaigns, the most effective outlets for the latest developments in a political cycle are traditional vehicles: newspapers, television and their corresponding websites. But the clear differentiator among those players is how they attract readers to their stories. That’s where social media plays a vital role. I am much more apt to read a story recommended by a friend or colleague because I trust them. It’s the social capital they have built with me that makes social media not so much a relevant source of information, but the primary way that I find out what information my network believes to be credible and noteworthy. I don’t visit those traditional sites without getting a link to them from someone in my social sphere of influence.

SL: How important is it for candidates to continue their presence and use of social media after the election?

Krzmarzick: What got you there is what keeps you there. It’s no different from in-person communication. Compare it to dating: If I spend an enormous amount of time to win the heart of someone in those early months when we’re getting to know one another, but then stop once we’re engaged or married, I lose trust in the relationship. The person who has been getting my attention will feel neglected—or used. As a candidate, if I spend months stumping town to town, but then stop visiting my constituents once I win office, they’ll feel the same way. Now take those lessons from in-person to online communication. It’s no different. You’ve got to be authentic and consistent, even if it takes more time and energy.

One very important caution: candidates need to make every effort to attach the social media channels to the office and not the officeholder. Too many candidates and elected officials are creating profiles and pages that are tied to the person vs. the public office. In other words, it’s the official site of Representative Smith vs. the 12th Congressional District. Public officeholders rent that online space, but most of them act like they own it. But what happens when they leave office? They can’t just pick it all up and take it with them—that’s public information! There are all kinds of thorny issues tied to continuity and public record-keeping that have not been fully explored yet—and they become more complicated when candidates and officeholders blur the line between what’s theirs and what’s ours as voters and citizens.

SL: How is government attempting to use social media to communicate with constituents?

Krzmarzick: There are three primary ways that government is engaging with constituents by social media:

  • Communicating: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media channels are another broadcast tool for most government entities. Just as government has always needed to deliver accurate, timely information to citizens, social media is another vehicle to put that information in citizens’ hands.
  • Conversing: Of course, the best practice for government communication is to recognize that social media is a lot more like a town hall meeting or a press conference than a speech or flier. When citizens ask questions or give feedback–positive or negative —in response to the information that government shares, those offices that take advantage of the opportunity to enter into dialogue will gain far more trust and build much stronger relationships with their constituents.
  • Crowdsourcing: Perhaps the most popular version of crowdsourcing I’ve seen is when an office releases an annual budget or a piece of legislation and allows citizens to comment on it, proposing additions or changes prior to it being brought to a vote or some form of finalization. In other cases, government has created tools where citizens are able to simulate the entire budget-making process, adjusting revenue and expenditures for themselves. This kind of crowdsourcing is valuable in three ways: first, it allows the officeholder or government agency to know what’s important to citizens and, second, it enables citizens to see just how tough it is to come to arrive at the point of decision. Third, the citizen might actually see changes to the legislation based on their input and will feel as if they actually had a voice in the process.

SL: Do you see a branch of government that is more engaged in social media?

Krzmarzick: I think each branch or level of government is giving social media a fair shot and we’re seeing innovation around citizen engagement at all levels.

SL: How will government need to use social media effectively to communicate with people online?

Krzmarzick: I think much of my answer to No. 4 might apply here, too. If you’re looking to more futuristic thinking with this question, I’d say that mobile is an important trend – people are getting information from their phones and tablets, and the call for useful apps built around public data is growing stronger. Too many government entities feel as if they need to build these apps—and they should. But there is a strong push for government to release its datasets so that smart citizen developers can build their own apps, mashing up data in meaningful ways that might not emerge from an in-house development effort. Another idea is to integrate social elements into official government websites. For instance, can government build transparent, public comment portals or integrate voting features around site content (similar to the “Like” button on Facebook) that encourage micro-engagement? I’m also a big fan of live chat as a more immediate vehicle for citizens to find information or advice. It’s like having a receptionist ready and available to answer citizen inquiries online—just as you would when they come to your offices. That’s just good customer service.

SL: Give an example of a government agency or division that is using social media effectively?

Krzmarzick: On GovLoop, the government social network I manage, we have a “Social Media Leaderboard” tool that compares federal social media efforts among agencies. Right now, the U.S. Marine Corps seems to be winning the battle (with U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, NASA and U.S. Navy rounding out the top five.). That tool bases its scoring on the total number of fans and followers, but there are some other clear lessons from the Marines’ social media presence:

  • Created iPad and Android apps that enable interested readers to find them on their phones and tablets.
  • Put social media guidance in place to protect both their men and women in uniform and the Americans who admire them.
  • Connected their blog and magazine to replicate and maximize content creation.
  • Encouraged engagement on Facebook and Twitter, running regular contests (“Fan of the Week”) and interacted with their fans and followers.
  • Posted videos on YouTube and photos on Flickr--that they share on Facebook and Twitte-that tell their story and cast Marines in a positive light.
  • Made available widgets that people can post on their own sites to further spread the word and drive traffic to their main portal.

Note that they take an integrated approach to social media that enables their channels to build on and reinforce each other, including more traditional approaches to communication like in-person events, press releases and print publications. They have a concrete purpose behind their presence—whether that’s online or on the ground.