The Tweeting Bush

Posted on June 3, 2010 by 2 Comments

George W. Bush has a Facebook page and a Twitter account as of yesterday, although the latter appears to be fake. Still, Bush’s foray into the social media world makes perfect sense to me: Twitter and Facebook are great tools for listening to what people have to say. And the former president, as we know, has always been interested in what Americans are talking about — whether we know he’s listening or not.

All jokes aside, I’m glad to see more politicians using social media. It promotes transparency in government. For example, it’s easy for most voting-age Americans to watch Obama’s failed campaign promise to bring troops home from Iraq within 16 months. Thanks to social media, it’s tougher to flip flop, go back on promises or mislead the public. In a sense, we the people are poised to take over the traditional media’s job of keeping government accountable. That is a level of democracy the founders of this country could never have dreamed of.

Clever DisguiseThen again, social media can’t prevent scandals or stop power from corrupting. Future Governor Sanfords probably won’t create a Facebook photo album called “Appalachian Trail” and post pics from Argentina; future Monica Lewinskis probably won’t tweet “I’m under the podium, lol!” but the fact remains that social media helps keep politicians accountable. There are tens of millions of people on Twitter and hundreds of millions on Facebook, and their ability to spread news and shape opinions is making it tough for politicians to hide things in the shadows.

However, social media provides something even more important than transparency: Connection. Through social media, politicians can connect directly with their constituents in the same way corporate leaders can connect with company stakeholders. In Ye Olde Days, political candidates would ride trains from township to township. But towns aren’t communities anymore. Social networks are communities. Word doesn’t spread from village to village, Paul Revere-style. Word spreads via viral trends online. So, as more politicians join our online communities, their ability to listen to and understand us becomes greater.

Back to the matter at hand, I say congratulations to Bush’s staffers for getting “him” online. I say “him” with quotes because he isn’t running either account. Bush is not trying to build relationships and he is not trying to connect with people, which means his move is more of a publicity / reputation management stunt than anything else. That automatically makes it a failure as a social media strategy because nobody is interested in a boring feed of tweets like this: “Since leaving office, President Bush has remained active. He has visited 20 states and 8 countries.” Ooh la la.

This kind of social media is easy to spot because of the way it fails. Bush has just 7,000 followers on Twitter and 92,000 on Facebook, as of today. That is miniscule — Bill Gates got more than 100,000 followers on Twitter in 8 hours and John McCain has more than 560,000 fans on Facebook. Getting involved in social media is a nice thought, but it has to be done right.  Consider Bush’s Facebook page. Since the page is public, rather than personal, people can’t even “poke” Bush, as many people lamented on Twitter yesterday. Maybe the Twitter account isn’t entirely worthless though… if Bush isn’t contributing his own thoughts, I guess he’ll just have to re-tweet Karl Rove.

Image by Jill Clardy

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