THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, January 20, 2011 -- Gov. Rick Scott, in his first widespread attempt to reach Florida voters since being inaugurated more than two weeks ago, took to the Internet Thursday night and Tweeted answers to voters’ questions in 140 characters or less for nearly 40 minutes.
The first question he took was from @BOILING_SKIES: What are your core policies to attract EMPLOYERS to Florida? #FL
@FLGOVSCOTT replied: call ceos each day and talk to them about moving fl #flgov
The decision by the governor to reach out to voters via social media marked a significant departure from standard town hall format where elected officials stand before a small audience and take select questions submitted in advance. Via Twitter, the whole world could see what the governor was being asked and what he was choosing to respond to - or choosing not to answer.
“Technology has transformed the way people communicate,” said Scott spokesman Brian Hughes prior to the Twitter town hall. “Gov. Scott wants to bring that transformation to the way Floridians communicate with him. We expect to use social media and other tools to provide more information and access to the people of Florida. This event is simply the next step in that effort.”
The governor’s staff did not say whether it would continue to hold similar social media events, but it’s been clear that Scott and his staff are intent on using the social media to reach voters over the next four years as it did during the campaign. Scott brought in Austin-based Harris Media during his gubernatorial run to specifically run his online media operation and the company recently opened a Tallahassee office – hiring Scott’s daughter Allison to join the firm.
The use of Twitter and Facebook isn’t new to politicians, with political candidates over the last several years setting up Facebook accounts, particularly in an effort to attract younger voters. But in the last two years, several have been using it to directly engage with voters to help boost their popularity and accessibility, bypassing more traditional media strategies.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty held a Facebook town hall last spring to take Minnesotans’ questions. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, regularly interacts with some of her 45,578 followers on Twitter. And most recently, Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker was called a “social media superhero” by Time for using his Twitter feed to aid residents after a massive snowstorm blanketed the east coast the day after Christmas.
“I think there’s been a shift in politicians a few years ago recognizing they had to do social media,” said Jordan Raynor, a Tampa digital media consultant who previously served as the executive editor for Sayfie Media, an online political news aggregator. “And then there was a phase that they realized it was personally beneficial to them. And now we’re moving to a phase where politicians realize this is a platform to really engage with constituents in a real way.”
The use of social media may be a quick way for Scott to boost his popularity among Floridians. After an incredibly divisive November race against Democrat Alex Sink, Scott came away with a razor-thin win by only 1 percent. And just prior to taking office, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic leaning firm in North Carolina found that Scott had a 43 percent unfavorable opinion among Florida voters.
“How can this not help the governor’s image?” Raynor said. “He’s being transparent as possible in letting constituents ask whatever question they like.”
It’s also part of a strategy to minimize the amount of exposure of Scott’s message to the filter of the traditional news media. Scott staffers have made it clear that the governor likes to stay on his message, and not have to veer off, or be distracted by the agenda of other questioners.
Recently, Scott announced new staff appointments on Facebook, rather than releasing them to the media first.
The Twitter experiment was not without some bumps along the way though. The governor did take some heat from followers on Twitter who accused him of taking soft questions, including one observer who poked fun at the governor for taking a question asking him what he liked about living in Tallahassee. And Kathy Burstein, a Delray Beach resident who works for the Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller, tweeted that 140 characters wasn’t enough for serious answers.
Scott also retweeted, apparently accidentally, and then deleted a comment from @PrettyTwister, who said, “So what, are you gunna fire everyone and hire Walmart employees? Yeah, thats great... you jackass #flgov.”
Over the 40 minutes, Scott took about 20 questions on his computer about his job creation plans, school funding, cuts to state workers, offshore oil drilling and high speed rail. He offered short answers in response, constricted by the 140 character limit, and not offering up any more details than he has said before publicly.
There were far more questions that went unanswered, with queries pouring in every few seconds during the live session and even hours before the 7 p.m. start time. Some of the questions he didn’t answer included why he eliminated the Office of Drug Control, how he felt about medical marijuana and whether a state agency overseen by Scott should be investigating fraud complaints against his urgent care company, Solantic.
@FLGovScott signed off at about 7:38 p.m. with “thanks to everyone for tweeting, see you soon #flgov.”
Governor Scott took to his twitter page in a Twitter Town hall meeting to answer questions tweeted to him from folks who participated.
Refreshing every minute, his computer was flooded questions serious and not so serious, like when asked who is his hair stylist and if he and the first lady plan to have more kids.
Twitter only allows 140 characters, max, but the governor says that wasn't a problem because he gets straight to the point.
Governor Scott says, "I'm around the state, I go somewhere every couple days now. I'm going to Orlando tomorrow [Jan. 21st] to give a talk and so it's different groups and so this is probably a different group that I would have been able to never talk to."
The Governor says the process of tweeting and being able to give an immediate response was interesting ... and he hopes to get faster at it.