In addition to providing a direct channel for delivering a governor's message, Twitter can be a powerful listening tool. In fact some pundits say social media may render polling obsolete. That's why it's remarkable that a few governors' accounts follow no one and several others follow fewer than 100. Perhaps there is a fear that following will connote some kind of endorsement or association, but it's now commonly understood that following is a gesture of good will and willingness to listen. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (@MassGovernor) follows more than 11,000 and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal), just over 22,000. Both routinely retweet and deliver shoutouts to constituents.
While California Gov. Jerry Brown (@JerryBrownGov) has the largest following—1.1 million, state population does not dictate the size of governors' following. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) has just 19,000 followers. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (@GovChristie) has 92,821 and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (@BobbyJindal) has 70,305.
While governors' focus is mostly local, several engage beyond state lines. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, the next National Governors Association chairman, tweeted from a DC-based National Press Club Kauffman Foundation forum on job creation. Governor Christie's tweets frequently weigh in on national issues, including the death of Whitney Houston. Klout labels Markell a "Specialist" whose tweets are consistent and focused with a "highly-engaged audience," and Christie a "Pundit" whose "opinions are wide-spread and highly trusted."
Twitter allows parody accounts like @GovCrazyPants in Maine if the account is clearly labeled as parody. Other gubernatorial spoof accounts have cropped up in North Carolina, New Mexico, and Delaware. Pearse Edwards, who has worked for governors in North Carolina and Washington state, advises against working to shut down parody accounts unless they are abusive. "Enjoy a laugh and move on," Edwards said.
The now-you-see-it-now-you-don't nature of Twitter makes it a more charitable space. Perhaps because twitizens are so anxious for the next conversation, memories are shorter and attention du jour.
As leaders of laboratories of democracy, governors deserve a lot of credit for their social media efforts. They out-represent their fellow elected leaders in Congress on Twitter and for the most part place a premium on connecting to their constituents in new and creative ways. Tweet on, governors.
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