State - Eye on Lansing Snyder administration plans another big social media push A handful of governors are active on the Internet

By Kathy Barks Hoffman

Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Rick Snyder says he won't be giving up the mantle of "one tough nerd" when he becomes Michigan governor next year.

The "techie" and former president of computer maker Gateway Inc. transformed himself from a relatively unknown Ann Arbor venture capitalist to governor-elect during his first run for public office largely through the use of social media and a savvy television ad campaign.

Now, the Republican wants to use those tools to reach Michigan citizens as he tries to reinvent the economically troubled state in a far more interactive way than Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who tweets but doesn't interact with citizens through Facebook.

Snyder promises citizens will be able to find out how much the state is spending on everything from public education to prisons and flu vaccines through an easily understandable budget spreadsheet posted online. He already is welcoming job applicants and ideas on how state government can run better on his transition website. And he hired a communications director who has a record of using Facebook and Twitter to make government more accessible.

It's a page right out of the campaign. With the help of New Hampshire-based social media consultant Chris Stewart, Snyder put up a dynamic campaign website and tweeted as "onetoughnerd." More than 37,000 people have clicked "like" on his campaign Facebook page -- exceeding the combined total for his four GOP primary rivals and Democratic opponent Virg Bernero.

In turning to social media for his official duties, Snyder is following a handful of other governors already active on the Internet.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick tweets, has a Facebook page and puts videos on YouTube and photos on Flickr to tell citizens what's happening. So does Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska, whose Facebook page shows him and his wife recently announcing their inauguration plans. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell posts his weekly addresses on iTunes. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert tweeted Friday he was "chatting with President George W. Bush as he signs copies of 'Decision Points' in Sandy."

That's different from the way state government traditionally has used the Internet to let citizens renew their vehicle registrations online, reserve a state park campsite or check whether a building contractor's license has been suspended, said Nicco Mele, a social media expert at the Shorenstein Center in Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He expects social media will transform the way citizens interact with government.

"Using the Internet in ways to really engage people online, to get their increased involvement, to create value in different ways, to shape how you think about and approach issues, that is really the new piece of this, the piece that's just starting to emerge," Mele said. "This is like when Gutenberg handed the first printed Bible to one of the clergy."

Michigan Lt. Gov.-elect Brian Calley already uses his personal Facebook page to talk about what he's doing in his job as a state representative, such as meeting with Iraq's investment minister, a Michigan State University graduate who wants Michigan companies to invest in his country.

"I work for the public, and this is a way for the public to see what I'm doing," said Calley, who recently posted a photo of his young daughter and the results of her heart surgery. He says he uses Facebook "as a tool to form a closer relationship with my constituents, showing I'm just a regular person with a real life."

The 33-year-old lawmaker said he also gets a sense of what constituents are thinking from the comments and e-mails they send to his Facebook page. He expects that will be a major help for the new Snyder administration as it tries to restructure not only the budget and state government but Michigan's entire economy.

"It can be a way to connect people to information that they otherwise wouldn't just naturally come across," Calley said. "It's not like people tool around (the official Michigan website) . for fun. People do tool around Facebook for fun."

Tom Shields of Lansing-based Marketing Resources Group sees social media as a crucial part of any public relations campaign but says it has its limits.

Even with more than 37,000 fans on Snyder's Facebook page, there are still 9.5 million Michigan residents he'll have to reach in some other fashion.

"You can't forgo the usual media ways of reaching people, or you'll miss 80 percent," Shields said.

Still, he sees a lot of advantages in using social media for the new governor and his administration, especially if Snyder feels his message is getting bogged down in the Legislature and wants citizens to call lawmakers and complain.

"The whole idea of social media is you don't go through the filters of legislators or the traditional media," Shields said.

Stewart at b-fresh consulting expects Snyder will check citizens' comments often once he gets his official Facebook and Twitter sites running as governor, just as he did while a candidate.

"It's a wonderful way for a candidate to stay honest, because there's no staff filter. It's just straight, unvarnished what people are feeling right to the candidate," Stewart said. "I have no doubt that Rick will harness the technology and use it innovative ways moving forward that will help him spur change in Michigan's capital."

Published: Mon, Nov 29, 2010


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