February 20, 2012, 10:37 PM
SIOUX FALLS, SD -
Facebook is everywhere. We use it at home; many of us even use it at work. The popular social network pulls people of all kinds together and sometimes it pits them against each other.
"Both of my parents are on Facebook. I have a friend in Rapid City who just turned 90 who is on Facebook," South Dakota Democratic Party Chair Ben Nesselhuf said.
Nesselhuf says that's why, over the past year, the state's Democrats have put emphasis on growing their Facebook page.
"If George McGovern were running the party, he told me this the other day, that's exactly what he'd be doing," Nesselhuf said.
The party still uses some of the same strategies former US Senator McGovern did as he went door-to-door. It's just that now they drive the message one click at a time. On average, Nesselhuf says workers post about three times a day.
"If you're not turning to your supporters and using that Facebook community, if you're not turning that into action, it's really just, that's all it is, is a fun place to hang out," Nesselhuf said.
"It's a way to really make it personal and connect, to say that I am not some foreign presence in Pierre that nobody cares about," said Michael Nitz.
Nitz teaches public relations at Augustana College in Sioux Falls. He says this process of turning face-to-face communication into an online relationship that society weighs in on has a name - mediatization.
"What are you out there? Who are you connected with? What types of likes/dislikes do you have? And they'll make those judgments, fair or unfair, based upon that," Nitz said.
"I posted an update on my thoughts on the smoking ban and my Facebook page turned into a blog essentially with people commenting," said State Senator Todd Schlekeway.
That is how Schlekeway learned opinions can overtake a Facebook page, especially when politics are involved. But he says even with that possibility, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
"We have a nine-week citizen legislature. And the more we can get the message out, the better," Schlekeway.
"There's no secrecy. We're not trying to have a closed caucus. We're trying to create conversation in the public. And there wouldn't be any purpose in us blocking access to that," Nesselhuf said.
And that focus by democrats seems to be working too. Nesselhuf says in just over a year, his party has increased its Facebook following from under 250 to more than 1300.
"Largely the people that are talking are in agreement with you already. But it's a way for them to express openly, engage in conversation and a way to form them to eventually become an activist," Nesselhuf said.
"I'm constantly checking Facebook and Twitter. So, I will likely see communication through these two platforms before I even see my email," said Schlekeway.
And as more people are drawn to social communication, you can expect the up-to-the-second communication to continue. The other go-to social network used by most politicians is Twitter. Schlekeway says some states have to regulate its use during their legislative sessions. South Dakota does not have a state social media policy.
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