How tweet it is: Halifax councillors on their Twitter use
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Since the advent of Twitter, knowing the who’s who in municipal politics and what’s happening in your own district has perhaps never been easier.
From snapping pics at community BBQs and award ceremonies, to calling out the need for infrastructure repairs (not to mention the occasional selfie), some councillors have taken to tweeting out their daily activities.
Undoubtedly, doing so gives constituents a glimpse into how they spend their time, and even confidence in their capabilities as neighbourhood representatives.
But don’t be fooled, Twitter also helps our councillors grow their personal brands.
Brand building is the first step in polishing a reputation, and according to a local social media strategist, is made all the easier to proliferate thanks to the instantaneous communication power of social media.
“People get to know what you stand for very quickly if you’re using Twitter,” Anita Hovey of Twirp Communications says.
Compared to other platforms, Twitter is the most utilized as far as to share unfiltered thoughts and opinions.
Hovey, who is Halifax-based, explains that a personal brand is built out of what you say – or when it comes to social media – what you share, for better or worse.
“You no longer control your brand,” Hovey warns.
“You can’t just put out a flyer and say ‘this is what I stand for. This is how I’m going to represent my district’, ‘cause people actually get to see what you’re posting on a daily basis and how you interact with constituents.”
Councillor Matt Whitman, who jokingly calls himself a “new barometer” to gauge social media savyness amongst Halifax councillors, says he’s also an example of what not to do.
Upon being elected in 2012, he says he was met with some criticism when he decided to block followers who directed negative comments, even insults, his way.
Unfortunately, Hovey says, public figures, in particular politicians, do not have the luxury of shutting out naysayers online, but must take the criticisms in stride.
“If you’re on Twitter and people know where you work, you represent those companies now and you can’t separate yourself from that,” she says.
Connecting with residents remains the reason Whitman says he keeps such an active Twitter account, explaining that it gives him a voice and visibility in the community that he otherwise could not achieve.
He also agrees with Hovey who pegs Whitman’s win as a first-time councillor in part due to his prevalence on social media, which gave voters a sense of who he was and insight into his potential as a leader before they headed to the polls.
“Not only did it help me get elected, it helps me say super connected and have maximum impact most effectively in between elections,” Whitman says.
“If you want to connect with your constituents of a younger age, you have to be [on Twitter] to do it,” Anita Hovey, social media strategist in Halifax
What’s ‘the Twitter’ anyways?
For the all the talk of how many Halifax’s councillors have taken to Twitter, there are a few that almost eschew the practice entirely.
Long-time Dartmouth councillor Gloria McCluskey says she uses her Twitter account mostly as tool to search out the daily news, explaining traditional phone calls are still the primary way residents get in touch.
“I’m not a councillor who goes out and takes a picture of everything I do,” she says.
When pressed as to why not, she responds “because,” followed by a chuckle.
It’s safe to say that Coun. Stephen Adams feels equally ambivalent.
He also admits that embarrassing as it is, he’s still figuring out how social media works.
Still, he runs a Twitter account to keep track of a junior hockey league in Spryfield and keeps a Facebook profile, but the thought of creating a personal Twitter account for residents to follow isn’t exactly his cup of tea.
“These things take on a mind of their own,” he says, explaining posting content online initiate conversations that can very quickly be derailed into rants or unproductive commentary.
Ask the expert, tips for Twitter:
Anita Hovey, social media expert, offers some simple advice for city councillors to boost their Twitter presence:
One of the biggest mistakes anyone in the public image can make with social media is to be all business all the time, she says.
“They want to see the personality behind the account. Whether that’s your Facebook, your Twitter or your Instagram,” Hovey says.
She vehemently discourages against over posting pet pictures or what you ate for lunch, but explains followers want to see that you’re human and have personality and interests “other than the next downtown development project.”
Mayor, is that really you on Twitter?
The short answer is yes.
Mayor Mike Savage explains both himself and one of his assistants manage the Twitter account for the Office of the Mayor, but he first authorizes all the content before it’s posted.
“Anything that comes from my account reflects my views.”
He says the basic reason for having an account is that “it lets people have an idea of what I do in the job,” adding he’s heard feedback that residents appreciate seeing a lighter side to municipal politics, rather than the day-to-day business.
“The good thing about Twitter is that you get people’s immediate unvarnished opinion. The bad thing is the same, “ Savage says.
“So you try to figure out what the best way is to make it work.”