Shumlin Taps Into Social Media To Get Message Out

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(Host) The days are past when people over 25 who used Facebook were thought of as a bit weird. 

Social media Web sites have come of age.  Young people may still be their most active users, but many others are tapping into Facebook and Twitter to get their message out.

They include Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin.

VPR’s Steve Zind has more.

(Zind)  Shumlin is on social media sites Facebook and Twitter. And he isn’t alone: Last year, USA Today counted more than 30 governors using Twitter to get the attention of young voters. Shumlin says otherwise, you’re invisible to them.

(Shumlin) "And if you don’t use their language to speak to them, you’re not going to get to young people….So it’s really more about accepting the fact that they don’t communicate the way we did and we either join them or lose them."

(Zind) Shumlin’s Twitter feed is active nearly every day as he moves around the state, sending short Tweets, which are limited to 140 characters. Mostly they describe where he is and who he’s with.

For example:  "Met with Vermont Nurses Association this morning. A great group of people working hard to keep us healthy."

Twenty-five year old Stephen Churchill is just the kind of person Shumlin is trying to reach through social media. 

(Churchill) "Yea, my Blackberry and my laptop. So I’m generally always plugged in…"

(Zind) Churchill, who’s a voracious consumer of news, is plugged in at a downtown Burlington coffee shop on this particular afternoon. He follows Shumlin on Twitter, but he’s disappointed in the governor’s tweets. 

(Churchill) "To be honest, I’m already not as engaged as I should be. But from what I’ve seen, and I do pay attention, there’s really not much actual news coming from his Twitter."

(Zind) The finer points of policy are probably a tall order for a short Tweet, plus Shumlin doesn’t actually write most of his. That’s handled by press secretary Bianca Slota. Slota says Twitter’s value is in its immediacy. 

(Slota) "You can say, ‘I’m at the bookstore right now. I’m going to be here for the next 30 minutes. Stop by if you want.’ We’ve seen sometimes people will show up to these events to be able to say, ‘Hi,’ to him. And I think that’s really why I’m excited about this and what we’re trying to create is access."

(Zind) A big part of Slota’s press secretary job is keeping the governor’s Tweets, blog and Facebook messages current. She also posts video of Shumlin including a series called "Ask the Governor," where she reads Vermonters’ questions and Shumlin answers them.

(You Tube video)

(Slota) "What does the term ‘unanticipated receipts’ mean? If we don’t anticipate receiving it, then how can it save us any money?"

"(Shumlin)  "First of all let me apologize…."

(Zind) Another advantage to new media is it gives officeholders access to voters without relying on press coverage. Still, as important as social media is becoming, it will probably never replace a handshake and a greeting. 

(Man) "Governor!  How are you?" (Shumlin)  "Good to see you…"

(Zind)  In politics, face time still trumps Facebook.

For VPR News, I’m Steve Zind.



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