Thoughts on Mike Baird's use of social media

Posted by Matt Hayden on Sunday, February 14, 2016
NSW Premier Mike Baird has clearly put a lot of time and energy -- not to mention (taxpayers') money -- into mastering social media marketing. He is widely regarded as being ahead of the political pack when it comes to his use of Twitter and Facebook in particular to get his message out to the electorate. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

Sure, there are many politicians on Twitter. But they tend not to engage with other tweeps so much. And from time to time some show a worrying lack of comprehension about how it works. For example, several have been widely condemned for tweets abusing other high profile figures that they thought were private, not public. Or they'll retweet of-colour jokes that cause massive condemnation in the mainstream media. 

Baird seems not to have made these errors. And he's certainly grasped that the essence of success on these platforms is to use them to convey a sense of who you are as a person:

“He’s really quite good at using social media,” said Dr Jonathon Hutchinson, a lecturer in online media at the University of Sydney. “He’s blended the official voice of Mike Baird Premier with the social voice of the guy up the coast exceptionally well to deconstruct that barrier between an MP and an actual person.

“It feels legitimate and he’s doing what pollies should do and engage with citizens.”

“Social media can show the more human aspect of the person behind the pollie,” said Mr Hutchinson. “This is the way of the future.”

So he's been doing on them what anyone who has a message, product or service to promote should do. He's used social media to humanize his brand.

But there is a downside to saying "this is me as a person" (not just a politician, businessman or whatever). You're making yourself more vulnerable to attack in some ways. Of course pollies in particular have long been targets of public vitriol. But that would normally mostly occur at demos, and via the odd nasty letter (which your office staff would read first of course).

Social media affords another, more direct way for angry people to vent their spleen at their elected representatives. And Baird has suffered a huge blast of this recently. His defence of his controversial lockout laws in a Facebook post created an amazing amount of negative commentary. Must be difficult to read so much snark coming at you so directly! 

Still, he seems to have absorbed it without losing his cool. That's another thing to remember. The last thing you want to do is start returning fire in a vitriolic way. That would of course be very poor form for a politician -- although unless it got very nasty it would probably have no effect on his electoral chances. If you're a businessman, on the other hand, social media spats can be very risky. Snarking back at the trolls can get them really fired up and organized. They can end up causing some serious damage to your company's reputation. So, keeping a calm head in these situations is essential.  

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