Politics are cool again. Thanks largely to social media, the race to the White House has been transformed from its dry-rhetoric past to an engaged national conversation. Take the past three debates as evidence. 10.3 million tweets were posted during the first Presidential debate, breaking records, while an additional 4 million tweets dominated Twitter during the VP debate last week. Last night’s town-hall-style debate drew a commendable 7.3 million Tweets as well. However, this town hall debate format did not just happen for 90 minutes in Hempstead, NY, on October 16th as we were led to believe. Instead, this democratic, town hall conversation is quickly becoming the hallmark of the 2012 elections as citizens take to social media to enter the discussion.
Never before has the campaign to win the White House been so, dare we say, democratic. Suddenly, the candidates and the news media have surrendered some control over the national conversation. Instead, people are taking to Twitter and Facebook to express and share their opinions with a swath of people wider than ever before. The opinions of the citizens are no longer just restricted to polls or 90 minute town hall debates. They can enter the conversation now, anywhere.
And, this town hall atmosphere is not going away when the polling booths close in November. There is a new paradigm in communication between citizens and the government. Everybody from presidents to mayors can expect these interactions to continue. Many are already on board, taking advantage of the participation that social media offers. This comes with a certain level of responsibility as well. It requires that the city, county, state, or federal government have a social media policy, a management system in place, and a recordkeeping strategy. Just like in a town hall, there needs to be a set of rules in place to keep the conversation civil. Disagreement or tough questions are welcome, but setting fire to the stage is clearly not within the bounds of a town hall meeting. So, as the nation transitions to a digital town hall, take advantage of the new lines of communication, but keep in mind that no matter how heated the debates are, the same rules still apply.