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Mike Schlossberg spearheads Twitter town hall as traditional methods of reaching constituents decline in participation
Morning Call - Allentown, Pa. Author: Date: Opilo, Emily Sep 8, 2013
Start Page: A.1 State Rep. Mike Schlossberg settles into a chair behind a desktop computer, mouse in one hand, brownie in the other. It's time to face the masses. "OK, we're ready to begin #AskSchloss!" he types, minding the length of his entry to keep it under 140 characters. "We'll take questions via Twitter, FB and Email. Will answer many!" Schlossberg's Twitter feed slides downward as new tweets appear, questions rolling in. This is the new town hall meeting. For decades, the traditional town hall has been a favorite tool of politicians -- a chance to make themselves look available to the citizenry while getting a feel for the issues constituents care about most. The spirited face-to-face conversation is democracy in action, a Capra-esque symbol of public participation. But for years, that participation has been steadily declining. Whatever the reason -- long work days or frequent trips to youth soccer practices -- people have found it harder to make time for traditional town hall meetings. Participation at municipal meetings of all kinds has been going down for decades, and even senior citizens, the most reliable bloc among voters, have begun to lose interest. At a town hall meeting hosted by Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, this year at a senior high-rise, only 20 of the building's 300 residents made the trek downstairs to attend. That decline has led some public officials to think outside the box about how to communicate with the electorate. The Twitter town hall, a concept that Schlossberg debuted in April and plans to repeat at 7 p.m. Monday, saves constituents the trip to see him. Instead it brings the civic interaction to their computers, smartphones or tablets. "You have to go where people are," Schlossberg said. The freshman lawmaker and Allentown City Council alumnus is the first member of the state House to try the Twitter town hall format. Gone are the folding chairs and portable lecterns. During Twitter town halls, participants submit questions to Schlossberg via email, Facebook and Twitter, and he answers them one by one with tweets, visible to anyone who follows him on the social network. Questions and responses are marked with the hashtag #AskSchloss to signify they are related to the forum and to make them easily searchable. Schlossberg's first Twitter town hall in April -- which he advertised on Facebook, Twitter and in email blasts -- drew at least as many participants as that meeting at the high-rise. And that doesn't include people who were watching but not participating. Questions touched on gun restrictions, voting by mail and Marcellus Shale. "Why cant PA enact a natural gas severance tax?" one person tweeted. "Even Texas and Alaska do it and the public reaps the benefits."
"Lack of Shale tax is appalling," Schlossberg tweeted back. "36 states have it; we don't. Lose $300m a year and communities suffer." If as many people participate in the encore Twitter town hall, Schlossberg plans to hold one every six months. Hiding in fear? It wasn't that long ago that town halls were better attended, and even the center of controversy. In 2009, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter found himself in the middle of a national debate after a constituent angry about health care reform shouted him down at a town hall meeting. Similar protesters stormed town hall meetings across the country that year, dominating the dialogue with volume and causing some lawmakers to shy away from the traditional forum. Without face-to-face communication, Twitter town halls could be perceived as a further withdrawal by lawmakers, said Chris Borick, a professor and pollster at Muhlenberg College. But used in combination with more traditional communication, the Twitter town hall has enormous potential, he said. "Like any forum, it's how you use it," Borick said. "Some interactions with people online can be very productive and very valuable. It can be used as a means to duck and to improve relationships and communication. ... I think it's clearly a sign of the times." Twitter gives lawmakers access to a younger voting bloc, opens lines of communications that some people are much more comfortable with and gives interested voters multiple means to get in touch with a legislator, Borick said. But it's not the be-all, end-all of communication with constituents, Borick warned. Less tech-savvy senior citizens are far less likely to have a Twitter account, let alone participate in a Twitter town hall. That's why Schlossberg has no plans to give up on his schedule of traditional town hall events. "This is a supplement," he said. "Nothing will truly replace door-knocking or phone-calling or town halls, but as turnout at those traditional mediums decrease, it puts the onus on us to reach out in different ways." Politicians on Twitter and other forms of social media are hardly a new phenomenon. President Barack Obama had big success with social media during his 2008 campaign and has transitioned that strategy into his presidency. The first #AskObama town hall was held in July 2011 and garnered 70,000 tweets with questions on jobs, the economy and the legalization of marijuana. Many local politicians have established a social media presence, particularly on Facebook. But there's a difference between being present on social media and using it to its full potential. Some officials make the mistake of using Twitter exclusively for press releases, rather than interacting with constituents. Others put their accounts in the hands of interns, who can't replicate the lawmaker's voice, Schlossberg said. "I think a lot of people don't understand Twitter," he said. "They don't understand its reach and how powerful it can be." Twitter faux pas Some hesitation among members of the state House to try the online format could be tied to the well-publicized Twitter flubs of other public officials. Anthony Weiner needed only one photo sent via Twitter to cut short his decadelong stint in Congress. And locally, missteps on Twitter have led to calls for the censure of an East Penn School Board member, a public apology from Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan and termination of a Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corp. social media specialist. Those are just a few of the cautionary tales for lawmakers, said G. Terry Madonna, a professor at Franklin Marshall College in Lancaster. That shouldn't deter other public officials from being active on social media, but it should make them very cautious, he said.
"You've got to be very careful," he said. "Once you put something on Facebook or Twitter, you can't take it down." Schlossberg tells people not to blame the medium. Constituents like seeing grace under pressure, in person or online, he said. "People who are stupid with social media are the ones who lack judgment in real life," Schlossberg said. State officials aren't the only ones increasing their social media presence. Locally, the Bethlehem Police Department has an active Twitter account that regularly interacts with residents and officials. In Easton, the city's planning department tweets regularly. A handful of council people, commissioners and school directors from across the Valley also have a presence. Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski is among the most prolific users of social media. Every day Pawlowski compiles relevant news links and discussion topics, which he posts to multiple Facebook pages, a Twitter account and LinkedIn page. While he has yet to host a Twitter town hall, Pawlowski said he recently pitched the idea to his staff. Many public officials are under the impression that they need an IT staff to manage their social media, Pawlowski said. That's not true. Pawlowski spends 20 to 30 minutes each day gathering relevant content and responds to questions as they are asked. No one else handles his accounts, he said. "It doesn't need to take up a lot of time, and you don't need a lot of financial resources," Pawlowski said. The mayor said he reaches 6,000 people a day with his efforts, more than a town hall meeting ever could. But officials must also be cautious not to let social media take the place of real human interaction, Borick said. Twitter town halls and other online forums should always complement other more traditional events, not replace them, he said. "I would hate to think electronic means of communication are the only means by which elected officials would meet with constituents," Borick said. "There remains an important place for face-to-face contact. You get different things out of different methods." email@example.com 610-820-6522 Twitter: @emilyopilo Credit: By Emily Opilo Of The Morning Call
Common sense is a rule when using social media ** A place to be heard ** TOWN SQUARE
Morning Call - Allentown, Pa. Author: Schlossberg, Mike Date: Oct 30, 2010
In 2008, after Barack Obama was elected president, his chief speechwriter was attending a party with friends. Presumably after a few beers, 28-year-old Jon Favreau was photographed with a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. Favreau's friend was kissing the cutout, and Favreau was groping it. Yipes. As if that wasn't bad enough, another "friend" of Favreau's uploaded the picture to Facebook. Favreau was able to get it taken down in about 20 minutes -- far too late. The story went national, the photograph went viral, and Favreau immediately apologized for the embarrassment he caused his boss and the future secretary of state. Favreau was lucky: His job remained, and he is still gainfully employed by the president. Unfortunately for many others, the story doesn't always end so well. Seventy percent of recruiters and hiring managers in the United States have rejected an applicant based on information they found online. In total, nearly one in five companies has disciplined or fired an employee for social media misdeeds. The stupidity isn't limited to the workplace. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers says 81 percent of its members have used or faced evidence found on social media. This is a huge reason why many are scared to become active on social media: potential repercussions for the workplace. It's a totally understandable fear. Social media have distinctly blurred the once rigid lines between one's personal and professional life. These boundaries are evaporating, and social media are both a cause and effect of this separation. So, how can you be active on social media without getting yourself into hot water at work? Is it even possible? The answer is yes -- if you take proper precautions. There is a danger with social media is that anything you say or do can be placed on the Internet, with or without your consent. Of course, that can happen regardless if you are active on social media. Having your own Facebook page or Twitter feed can't do a thing to change that. Nonetheless, there are certain commonsense precautions you can take to ensure that you don't do anything overtly stupid on the Internet: * Review the privacy settings of every social network you are on. For all the flak that Facebook has gotten over the past year for privacy-related issues, it actually has extremely robust privacy settings. Facebook allows you to hide every piece of content on your profile from any one of your friends. Other social media platforms have similar settings. Make sure that you review the privacy settings on each of the social media networks you are active in to ensure that your privacy and personal information is being protected. * What is your employer's social media policy? Many companies have a social media policy that specifically lays out what they expect their employees to do and say on social media. Some policies are more restrictive than others, but if you work for a living, you need to find out if your company has a social media policy and how that may affect your online life. The best way to stay out of trouble is to obey the rules. If your company doesn't have a social media policy, urge it to. Creating such a policy sets expectations and ensures that there is no ambiguity. * Unless you know that you are able to do so, never use social media during work hours. Always assume that you cannot do this, unless you have explicit confirmation otherwise. This is an easy way to get in trouble -- and an easily avoidable mistake. * Be careful with whom you friend or connect. Remember, unless you alter your privacy settings, someone whom you are formally connected with has access to all of your social media content -- and if this is a boss or a co-worker, this can create a problem!
* Perhaps this is obvious, but if you are doing something you don't want others to know about (playing hooky, acting in ways that are, shall we say, less than wholesome), don't put it on Facebook or Twitter! No privacy setting can make up for a lack of common sense. No matter how stringent your privacy settings, anything that you put on social media can go viral because of its digital nature. A good rule of thumb: Never say anything on social media if you wouldn't be comfortable with it appearing on the front page of The Morning Call. Hopefully, you haven't finished reading this article and run to delete your blog and Facebook account. You can, and should, use social media. It's like any other tool. If used improperly, it can burn you. If used correctly, it can make a dramatic improvement on your ability to connect with people, and in business, it can help grow your bottom line. Don't be afraid. Just use common sense. Mike Schlossberg is assistant vice president for technical and community management with the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and a member of Allentown City Council. Credit: By Mike Schlossberg, Special to The Morning Call - Freelance
Middle East protests show the true power of social media ** YOUR VIEW
Morning Call - Allentown, Pa. Author: Schlossberg, Mike Date: Feb 25, 2011
The past month has seen many headlines out of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where pro-democracy protests have thrown two dictators from power and appear to be on the verge of removing a third. A variety of different strands have tied these separate revolutions together: corrupt governments, entrenched dictators who used the machinery of the state to enhance their waning grip on power and a desperate desire of an oppressed people to live free. The battles that played out on the streets of Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli have many connections with revolutions that have rocked and changed the world for centuries. What is relatively new in all of these revolutions is the use of social media. Revolutionaries in the three countries have used social media for organizational purposes. In Egypt, after the police beating death of Khaled Said, a Facebook page was formed that attracted hundreds of thousands of members and helped to organize the Jan. 25 protests that ultimately toppled President Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, a Facebook event created to kick-start the protests later claimed more than 80,000 attendees. In Tunisia, word of the revolution first spread via Facebook, causing the power shift to be called the "Facebook Revolution" by many youth in the country. In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi himself warned Libyans against using Facebook and had several bloggers and Internet activists arrested. Just as powerfully, social media have been used to tell the outside world about these revolutions. In all three countries, revolutionaries used social media to highlight the plight of average citizens and the increasingly aggressive use of power by police and members of the military -- including beatings and murder. Internet access was significantly curtailed, if not outright blocked, by the state during all of these revolutions. Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags and YouTube channels became primary sources of information for the rest of a world that was seeking to learn about the ongoing battles in these countries. Indeed, the content shared on these sites galvanized the world. During the Iranian Green Revolution of 2009, few images remain as powerful or poignant as the graphic shooting death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a civilian who was killed by a stray bullet while passing an anti-government protest. The video of Neda's death, captured and uploaded onto YouTube, symbolized the plight of a people to overthrow their dictatorial government and resulted in condemnations by people and governments across the globe. The consequences of social media on revolutions are far-reaching. Corruption and dictatorial governments are having a much harder time operating in the shadows; social media provide an engaged populace with the platform to shine a light on oppressive actions. All a citizen now needs to lead a revolution is Internet access or a smart phone. One immoral government action can transform a dictator into the deposed. Let's put it a different way: What if the leaders of the American Revolution had Facebook, Twitter or YouTube at their disposal? Paul Revere wouldn't have had a famous evening horse ride; he would have sent out a tweet: "The British are coming, the British are coming!" The Continental Army would have used a Facebook page to recruit troops. Two stories tell it all. A famous picture that has been circulating for weeks features an Egyptian protester with a sign. Most of the sign is in Arabic, with the exception of the word "Facebook." Translated, the sign reads, "Thank you, Facebook." After Mubarak's removal from power, many have commented on the role that Facebook played in the revolution. No story, however, is more powerful than that of Jamal Ibrahim from Egypt. He will name his first daughter Facebook, in honor of the service that changed the face of his nation. When it comes to the power of social media and revolutions, the sky is the limit. Revolutions are spreading across the Middle East, aided in no small part by the social networking services that so many of us spend so much time on. Social media are not just a game, not just a time waster and not just for fun. Social media are being used to enhance the most basic human rights that so many Americans take for granted: the right of a people to determine their own destiny. There are few uses of social media more powerful than that. Mike Schlossberg is the vice president of member relations and applied technology assistant for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and a member of Allentown City Council. Credit: Mike Schlossberg, Special to The Morning Call – Freelance
Apps valuable for everyday life, even births ** YOUR VIEW
Morning Call - Allentown, Pa. Author: Schlossberg, Mike Date: Sep 20, 2011
On April 10, around 1 a.m., my wife woke me up by squeezing my wrist. It took me about a nanosecond to realize why -- her contractions had started. As any incoming father would, I raced through about 300 different emotions in the space of a few moments, then got down to business: timing the contractions. Here's where I started to do something a little bit different than tradition would dictate. I did not grab a pen or paper to start timing the contractions. I didn't even get my computer and open Excel. Instead, I grabbed the contraction timing app that I had downloaded a few weeks before. With that app, I timed the start and end of each of my wife's contractions. The doctors were very clear on this: The contractions should, on average, be five minutes apart, last for one minute, for a total of one hour. When she wasn't clawing my arm in excruciating pain, I was able to tell how far apart the contractions were -- and when it was time to drive to the hospital. Granted, I'm a techno-nerd, but I'm not the only one. A quick review of Apple's App Store, which has more than 90 percent of the current app market, confirms the worldwide popularity of apps. More than 500,000 apps are now available. Combined, more than 15 billion apps have been downloaded. App downloads have generated more than $1.7 billion revenue in 2010, more than doubling its 2009 total of about $750 million. Even these numbers don't even come close to fully capturing apps' effects on the economy. Many apps are used primarily to generate business; as such, they create jobs and cause consumers to buy new products and services. Here's the thing: Apps aren't add-ons to your phone. They are add-ons to your life. I can think of dozens of people who don't bring a pen and a pad to a meeting anymore; instead, they use Evernote, an app that allows you to take notes on your phone and then email those notes to yourself, making for easy transcribing and follow-up. Urbanspoon allows you to select a location, type of food and cost, and boom -- you are directed to a new restaurant that you have never heard of. Mint.com lets you track your personal finances on the go, set a budget and watch your spending. Dragon Dictation allows you to speak a note into your phone - that note is then automatically transcribed and can be emailed to you. WebMD gives you 24/7 access to health information and medical advice. AroundMe will point you to the nearest gas station, restaurant, hospital and more. The impact of apps is local as well. Searching the Apple Store for "Lehigh Valley" reveals dozens of apps from Lehigh Valley businesses. The two organizations I work for, the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and the City of Allentown, both introduced apps a few months ago. Where does this lead us? Does every business and government now need an app to function, in addition to a website and a presence on social media? Well, not quite. At least, not yet. But here is something to consider: In June 2008, there wasn't even an app store. Now, apps are the hottest thing around. Seven years ago, Facebook was unheard of; now it claims more than 750 million members, with in excess of 400 million visiting the site on a daily basis. The Internet was essentially a private communication tool for the government and scientists until the 1980s, and now it is used by billions each day. Television, radio and telephones all started out as obscure technological innovations. They all eventually changed the world. The point is this: Apps, like their technologically revolutionary predecessors, are not fads. They represent more than just silly little frills that can be easily dismissed. Anyone who ignores their impact does so at their own peril. Mike Schlossberg is assistant vice president of technical and community management for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and a member of Allentown City Council. Credit: Mike Schlossberg Special to The Morning Call - Freelance