Once upon a time, I wrote a weekly column on social media for the Belleville Intelligencer, and this post does feel rather déjà-vu-ish.
Over the years the attitudes of politicians and journalists toward social media have changed, for sure. I remember advising a certain MPP and cabinet minister to get on Facebook (baby steps!) and being told, no, the leader didn’t like social media because “we can’t control the message.” Well, duh. Seeing that same MPP with a Twitter account by the time of the 2011 election made me chuckle.
Meanwhile, Canadian news junkies can follow a plethora of journalistic accounts, from news feeds and national columnists to local reporters and satirical accounts. It’s not all Kady O’Malley tweeting from committees or David Akin‘s dull lists of spending announcements anymore!
But there are many politicos and journos who still miss the point about the etiquette of following back.
I probably follow 200 news-related accounts and a similar number associated with elected members and political parties. Bear in the mind that, while in the grand scheme of things I’m utterly unimportant, I am a former riding association president at both the provincial and federal levels and a weekly columnist for two Sun Media papers read by tens of thousands weekly.
So who follows me back? My party leader? No. My MPP? Sorry. My mayor? Afraid not. My MP? Nope. As for journalists, two prominents and none others, plus my former editor.
The highest elected official who does follow me back is, in fact, Daryl Kramp – the Prince Edward–Hastings MP outside whose office I once organized a large protest that he didn’t like one bit. (Ah, prorogation…good times.) The funny thing is that Mr. Kramp and I have interesting and worthwhile exchanges now, largely because of Twitter. Even if we’re destined to be adversaries, we have found a way, at least, to chat amicably.
I’m not bitter, just a little annoyed that people I respect seem to not grasp fairly simple concepts about social media etiquette.
First point: social media is social. You’re not talking to yourself; it’s a conversation. I view following as merely a tacit agreement to acknowledge that one is open to dialogue with another person. When my own elected representatives merely broadcast, it does make me wonder how eager they are to hear from constituents online or in real life.
Similarly, when I see journalists only following other journalists it reinforces the perception that they exist in a professional little bubble, failing to adapt to a world of news that is now, to a greater degree, shaped and spread by citizens.
Susan Delacourt follows me back. Ann Douglas follows me back. These are journalists and authors who are known to and respected by many, and I don’t assume they hang on my every tweet (though both do sometimes notice my blather, which I certainly appreciate).
My second point is that following back does not imply the need to pay attention to an account. I follow many accounts that, on any given day, I won’t notice unless they are “amplified” (to use the Klout term) by tweeps I know and trust.
See, Twitter has this magic feature called lists. If you’re able to set up an account, you can set up a list, and by all means, don’t put me on it. You do realize you can follow thousands of accounts but, using either the Twitter site itself or a more sophisticated client application like HootSuite or TweetDeck, narrow your focus to a mere handful of users…right?
I tend to have more sympathy with the journalists because they manage their own accounts. Still, I know of at least one nationally known political journalist who follows every account that mentions him then immediately unfollows, leading me to believe that he hasn’t realized he can just look at any unprotected Twitter feed without having to follow the account first.
Didn’t your editor force you to attend the sort of social media seminars I use to give? There are real estate agents in Picton with more social media know-how than a Maclean’s columnist, apparently.
Sometimes it does get downright insulting. The other day the Toronto Star‘s lead Twitter account begged for Facebook “likes” and I suggested – politely, I thought – that if the account would be courteous enough to follow me back, I would “like” the paper’s page…which it did, and which I did, except that the next morning (because I do check daily, yes) I noticed I’d been unfollowed. Rude. There goes your “like,” guys, though of course I’ll still read Delacourt’s blog. Hey, Star, you should consider asking her for social media advice sometime.
As for politicians, I know how politics works, and each and every one of them has a staffer or volunteer who could manage their Twitter accounts. There’s really no excuse. If you happen to be a politician and you’re reading this post, here’s what you say: “Loyal staffer, please log in to my Twitter account and follow back the ‘real’ accounts, then set up a list of [50, 75, 100, whatever] accounts that relate to my work, y’know, my colleagues, journalists, news feeds, then plug it into my [laptop, phone] because I really can’t be bothered. Cheers.”
I’ll do it for you. No, really, I will.
In Canadian politics and journalism we have apparently accepted social media as part of the job, and I confess that when I see sloppy Twitter etiquette it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in either profession. Haven’t we had enough shouting from the rafters? When your social media read like your election pamphlet, you’re just doing the same thing twice, and you’re missing the point about – and failing to benefit from – what the medium offers.
I would go so far as to expect most politicians and journalists to reply to mentions that are worthy of comment. That might be too tall an order for a party leader, but if one backbencher can reply to me and still get his job done, the others have little excuse, and journalists are supposed to know how to distinguish between useless information and an interesting point…right?
And if you don’t think it’s a valuable use of your time, why did you bother signing up in the first place?