Monday, January 18, 2010

Social media grass taking root

If all politics are local, then something interesting is going on in politics. Although this post is about something that's happening in Orange County, VA, I'd very much like to know if similar things are going on elsewhere.

The fallout of our falling economy has left the Old dominion with a projected shortfall of $2.9 billion. Naturally, this has meant the state will be cutting funds to counties, and pretty drastically. In Orange, the superintendent was told to trim as much as $5 million from the school system by reducing services and personnel.

Now this isn't a new story -- localities all across the country are facing similar difficult choices. But what happened next isn't, I don't believe.

In the past, such budget struggles might be played out in the issues of our weekly local paper, and a few folks with the passion and desire to follow such things might turn out to a meeting or two if they happened to see the notice for it.

But this time, school employees and concerned citizens have harnessed the power of social media. Within a very short time, a Facebook fan page appeared for the Orange County Education Association, a group that "is an organization of dedicated teachers and support staff in Orange County Schools, Virginia."

They've been diligent in providing links to news stories, and cultivating their followers to help get the word out, and encouraging supporters to attend meetings en masse. They also have links to relevant legislators, and so on.

Now the OCEA is, according to information on its website "a VEA (Virginia Education Association) community."

So does that make the sudden flowering of the OCEA astroturfing?

I don't think so. Rather, I think it's simply showing a tighter focus for the VEA. OCEA isn't hiding it's affiliation to the VEA. But it is using local people to talk to local people. Orange County educators are contacting to their friends and colleagues -- the ones who ultimately will have to foot the bill for the shortfall -- directly, which has greater impact than the message coming from a statewide organization.

[For those who might be wondering, Virginia is a Right To Work state, so -- for better or worse -- there's no teacher's union with any kind of political clout.]

There's still much that OCEA could do with social media to rally the troops. There's no Twitter feed (that I could find). While there are links and contact info provided, there's not a lot of deeper level information available or detailed courses of action outlined.

But still, compared to the last time I wrote about how Orange County politicians used the Internet, it's a big improvement.

In olden times, a group like OCEA would have depended on the newspaper getting their story out, and would have had to come up with funds to take out newspaper, radio and/or TV spots to get their message out.

Facebook fan pages and Wordpress websites are free. And, potentially these days, reach more people who might respond.

So how are non-political interest groups using the Internet in your area?

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