The age of forgetting is now over. Online video with social media has become the perfect vehicle for keeping the behavior of politicians on public record for everyone, forever. Because of the recent events in Congress, I am compelled to share some recent examples of social video disasters from some high-profile politicians; along with my tips for those in any elected public office on how to avoid making boneheaded social video mistakes.
Online video and social media are now widely utilized in political campaigns for staying connected with constituents, and overall that’s been a positive thing. But some major politicians and their PR teams are still woefully inept on how to properly utilize social media when faced with a real controversy. Often times, their non-application or wrongful application of social media will make the controversy even worse for themselves. I’ve included are a few examples of just what I mean.
Weiner’s Exit: He Goes Private, Then Public, Then Private and Public???
Former New York Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner made his 2nd critical mistake with social media this week after his sexting scandal: His gave his resignation speech in a live press conference broadcast on major television and cable news networks; which was overshadowed by hecklers. While it’s not quite the stuff of viral video fodder, it may shape how we remember his exit from Congress and future perception in the public eye.
Giving a press conference where you take no questions is strange enough itself. But what’s stranger is not pre-screening the media for the Howard Stern local shock jocks and political antagonists who are obviously there only for the purpose of being disruptive. What I assume was meant to be a solemn goodbye resembled more of an open-casket funeral.
Advice to politicians: If you’re addressing a controversy, consider that any public address open to the general media to carry the risk of certain elements of a hostile crowd. Your resignation or goodbye speech may best done in a private, controlled environment captured on video, and disseminated through your own social media channels (or a proper liaison).
Sarah Palin’s Mis-Appropriation of “Blood Libel” for Congresswoman Shooting
That’s not to say that just because you do a private video response it will be well received. We remember how Sarah Palin’s own video-recorded “blood libel” speech put up on her Facebook page (a response to the psychotic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords) was eviscerated by the media not for what was considered to be a highly inappropriate term to describe what she considered as the media’s attacks on her own self; but also for exploiting the situation to behave sanctimoniously.
Advice to politicians: If there are any real victims involved in the controversy, keep the focus in your video about them, not about how wronged you think you have been treated. (Other people can do that for you, or you can save that for a later video.) Otherwise you just have given ammo for the media and your political opponents.
Tim Pawlenty Turns Wimpy at Presidential Debate, Then Acts Tough Again on Twitter
Minnesota governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Tim Pawlenty received some initial positive media for going on television and criticizing front-runner Mitt Romney’s health care plan for his home state of Massachusetts (and strikingly similar to President Obama’s) as “Obamney Care.” But when he had the opportunity to repeat that label in a direct debate question with Romney sharing the stage, he avoided repeating the term. The fallout was tremendous and he was considered afterwards to be a coward, perhaps ruining his chances for the presidency.
Advice for politicians: Don’t say anything in a private video or social media space – or anywhere in any public venue – that you don’t have the courage to say to someone’s face. The fact that Pawlenty reportedly had repeated the “Obamneycare” term right after the debate on his Twitter page made him also appear as a hypocrite.
Charlie Crist Apology
This one is particularly amusing, because it’s something a lot of politicians have gotten away with in the past. Former governor of Florida Candidate Charlie Crist was legally obligated to issue a video apology on his YouTube channel to musician David Byrne for stealing one of his songs for his own 2010 Senate race as part of their copyright infringement settlement.
Advice to politicians: If you’re going to use any recording artist’s song in your campaign, get permission from the artist and/or their record label. It’s also a good idea to try to actually pay attention to the musician’s own lyrics and political leanings before you use it as well. (Well before the days of social media, I can remember back to the days of President Ronald Reagan using Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” for his own campaign drive.)
Newt Gingrich Presidential Campaign Derailed by Social Video
When it comes to their handling of online video and social media, Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich operates in a league of his own. He’s one of those guys that still has the political mentality of someone who thinks he can control what people think simply by telling them what to think. Basically, he seems to operate as though online video and social media doesn’t have a record of everything he’s ever said publicly in the past (as well as what he’s said privately sometimes.) So it’s only fitting that his presidential campaign has tanked from a continued series of political blunders all caught on video and disseminated via social media.
Just before his announcement for running for president, there was his recorded flip-flop on telling President Obama how to handle Libya…
…Just after the announcement of his own candidacy, there was his interview NBC Sunday News Talk Show “Meet the Press…”
…Followed by the put-down handshake” at a GOP forum…
…Then going on FOX News telling people not to believe what he said on television less than a week earlier with his now infamous quote, “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.”
… That was followed by the investigation into the connection between his charity organization to channel revenue into his political career, and then refusing to talk about it while being interviewed by a local reporter (which was also captured in online video and disseminated in social media)…
…Then, his own campaign team quits on you.
Advice to politicians: Don’t be Newt Gingrich.
Tips For Politicians to Avoid Social Video Disasters
These are just a handful of so many examples online (including my own I posted on a former municipal president that ended up costing him his own re-election by getting only 8 percent of the vote.) One thing is especially clear: Social media and online video has made it so that anything that leaks will pour. Politicians seeking high office can no longer ignore addressing their past and present activities, nor should they attempt to manipulate public opinion by being dishonest. Online video and social media will catch everything you’ve said publicly, keep a record of it at least throughout your lifetime, and make it easy to share with everyone and anyone.
While I’m not naïve enough to think that online video and social media will turn politicians into honest public servants, it will certainly expose their dishonesty. That is exactly why all politicians today, whether holding office or running for elected office, need a social video education. Not addressing these issues and not participating in the space will only allow it to fester, and hand over the debate to your opponnents. You simply don’t have a choice anymore.
Here are some of my social video tips for politicians on how to both avoid a political disaster, and handle one properly:
- Be your own media hub. Take sensitive questions and address controversies through your own popular media channels: YouTube, Facebook, and your own official website.
- Treat anything you have ever put out online as public. It doesn’t matter if you meant it for someone personally, or even kept it for yourself privately. Anything you upload is now a record that someone else can access.
- Learn to control the situation. Don’t feel the need to always have a live audience for everything you do.
- Don’t lie to us. Don’t be evasive with us, either.
- Admit stupidity. If you’re stupid enough to lie to us, admit it.
- Put things in proper perspective for us. Does it really affect the ability to do your job, or is it just salacious fodder?
- Be social with video ALL the time. If you’re only using social media and online video to promote your campaign and deal with controversies, then you’re really not building your social capital you can use for anything in the future.
So to all you politicians and political hopefuls: You can be a Weiner and make mistakes, but don’t be a ding-dong. Learn from these social video disasters of others, and realize that you don’t have a choice anymore to be honest, transparent, and social online with us if you want our vote.