KATIE BANKS - MEDILL GRADUATE STUDENT, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
Susana Mendoza will be Chicago’s next city clerk partly because she figured out how to effectively use Facebook and Twitter to bring her voters to the polls. Now, she plans to utilize that same social media to stimulate transparency in City Council.
“It’s a really great opportunity to educate people on what we’re doing,” Mendoza said in a phone interview Tuesday.
A tech-savvy politician, 38-year-old Mendoza will use her web-enabled phone to keep constituents up-to-date on proposed legislation through Twitter hash tags –symbols that organize conversation topics so that users can easily find what interests them.
“If there’s an issue that you care about like zoning or housing or public safety, we can tag those things and get the information out to the people in real time,” Mendoza said.
Young Lakeview resident Christopher Jones said Mendoza’s transparency proposal might inspire him to activate a Twitter account to stay informed.
“I think it would be a good way to raise awareness about city politics among us young people,” Jones said. “We are all using social networks so it seems like the best way to reach us.”
But not all constituents are as optimistic about using Twitter and Facebook to interact with their elected officials. Dick McFarlin, an elderly Lakeview resident, said he prefers to get his news from television and newspapers because he’s not technologically versed in social media.
“I haven’t ever even sent a text message, so how would I know how to use Twitter?” he said.
David Szostak, owner of Diamond Strategies LLC and web, media and technology director for Mendoza, plans to tackle this issue by providing free webinars –interactive seminars conducted via the Internet –that train people on how to use social media tools.
“I plan on using webinars to show people how to access stuff at the clerk’s office without costing anyone,” Mendoza said of Szostak’s training sessions.
Mendoza’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed and YouTube account are testaments to the importance of social media in politics today. However, Szostak said these forums will never replace in-person interaction for Mendoza.
“She undoubtedly makes face-time her priority,” Szostak said. “But what I see for her through these sites is small communication bites with large impact. Her chances of reaching people increases exponentially when she puts it online and it hangs out there for three days.”
Mendoza is adapting to technology by personally creating multimedia content in order to maintain a connection with voters.
“She thinks it’s great to have a smartphone that she can use to shoot video, send it to YouTube, from there it gets sent to Twitter and Twitter tells Facebook. How streamlined is that for a politician?” Szostak said.
Paul Booth, a DePaul assistant professor of new media and technology, said politicians have no choice but to succumb to these new technological demands.
“It’s become a big force in politics…I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what social media can do,” Booth said. “And as technology improves, it will be used for all sorts of things that we haven’t even thought of yet.”
By embracing changing technology, Mendoza said she hopes to raise the bar for other council members who are hesitant to use social media. She will even offer to help aldermen set up Facebook and Twitter pages.
“We always want to be ahead of the curve and setting the tone for what everybody else should be doing,” Mendoza said. “I want to do that technologically and I also want to do that in my everyday duties as city clerk.”
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