The New York Senate Gets Social

Why do I feel like people in government and social media don’t really click? It’s like watching my parents try to leave AOL and chat with me on Skype. They might be able to download the program, but getting it to work is another story. Some government officials, though, are trying to change this image and have outsourced some hip twenty-something social media experts to tweet, Facebook, and connect with the community. They’re trying to promote policies through their status messages all day long.

Ben Yee is one of these political techsters. Yee worked on the Obama campaign as the new media director for New York and is in charge of social media strategy for the Senate, a new initiative that’s only about 60 days old. Sounds like a sweet gig, huh? But what exactly does that mean? I met with him recently and got him to describe his day on the Web.

9am: Get Online

Log on, read email, and check for “firedrills.” In other words, what might cause a stir among the newly socially networked Senate? Their crowd-sourcing portal might be down, or someone’s status message may not use the proper lingo approved by legal. You know, the usual!

10am: Meet and Advise – in Person

With an upcoming bill, a senator might want a website created that includes social components. Yee will have a meeting with his team and the communication department to work it all out and decide which tools to incorporate. Currently, Yee uses Ideascale for their crowd-sourcing technology.

Crowd-sourcing is a popular tool for them. It allows people to pose questions directly to senators, and the community then votes on the favorite question they want answered. A senator will then respond to the chosen question in a video posting. So far, the hottest questions on the site have been about property taxes, ethics reform, and campaign finance reform.

At the meeting, Yee also suggests creating a web poll, posting comments on a wall, and getting a new Twitter feed going.

12pm: Eating Time by the Computer

Yee gets sucked into reading status messages all through lunch, just like the rest of us. He browses through popular hash tags like #poweringny and #Healthcare Forum. If he has time, he might read through some of the senators’ personal blogs to get a feel for the day’s politics. He probably has blogs by Democrats John Sampson, Malcolm Smith and Pedro Espada and Republican Dean Skelos bookmarked.

1:00pm: Build It

At this point, the social part of social networking is over. Now, Yee needs to work with his Internet communications department to build a community-driven platform for the new site, like a poll or wall. If there is no programmer around, Yee will build it himself on Drupal… because he’s cool like that.

2:00pm: Get Analytical

Yee wrote the coveted “How to Twitter” and “How to Facebook” documents for the New York Senate. Now he checks to see who has read his bibles and which senators are most active on the social net. Yee mentioned that Nancy Pelosi is an avid tweeter. George Maziarz is really popular with his Facebook friends, and both Eric Schneiderman and Martin Golden are the most followed senators on Twitter. He then collects data and stats about who is hot and who is not online to share back with the Senate group.

4:00pm: New Ideas

The Senate seems hooked now on using social media to increase citizen participation and engage people in the local government. Not an easy task, though! Yee spends the rest of his day strategizing new ways to get New Yorkers – through social tools – to realize that state government affects their lives.

Publish date: October 14, 2009 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT