01.02.13 / Crowd Media
Social Goes Local: Jonathan Le Tocq, Chief Minister, States of Guernsey
With the UK Government estimated to save up to a staggering £1.8 billion annually by implementing a new ‘digital by default’ strategy, we’ve spent the beginning of 2013 discussing the future of our Bailiwick’s political process with some of the most digitally active States of Guernsey Deputies.
Deputy Chief Minister Jonathan Le Tocq (@letocq) sat down with Crowd to talk through his experience during three terms as a Guernsey States member; outlining how the digital revolution has impacted the role of the electorate and our island’s politicians.
WAS THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA CRITICAL TO YOU AND YOUR CAMPAIGN DURING THE 2012 ELECTION?
Yes. I chose to use Twitter, Facebook and to a lesser degree Linked-In to promote my candidature and policy messages. I had already been using Twitter since 2009 as I have journaled for years, and enjoy the discipline of the ‘micro-blog’ which Twitter provides. We had also been using Facebook since at least 2006, and it made sense to me to have my main campaign web-page on Facebook, which turned out to be both effective and inexpensive.
WHICH PLATFORM HAVE YOU FOUND THE MOST PRACTICAL IN REGARDS TO SUCCESSFULLY DEBATING POLITICAL ISSUES?
Twitter by a long chalk. It is by far the most lively forum in terms of interaction. That is not to say that Facebook did not generate political engagement, it is simply that this latter platform tended to encourage messages and emails and because it was largely a campaign page there has been little interaction on Facebook since the election. In terms of ongoing practicality Twitter offers an easy way to ‘converse’ over a subject, and at the same time provides links to further details if required. Linked-In for me was a general information page, including bio and CV information, through it I also kept in touch with a different (mainly business based) group of contacts.
DURING YOUR ROLE SO FAR AS DEPUTY CHIEF MINISTER, HAVE YOU SEEN THE PUBLIC ADAPT AND ENGAGE WITH SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS AS A MEANS TO INTERACT WITH YOU AS A STATES MEMBER?
Certainly with regards to Twitter I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have joined Twitter in order simply (or at least initially) to engage in political debate. I have around 1400 followers at the moment and I would reckon that probably around 60-70 of those seem to have joined during or since the election in order to engage politically with States Members like myself. Also through Facebook I’ve seen a significant increase in engagement with younger voters, especially teenagers, compared with other elections (this is my third term in the States).
AS POLITICAL DEBATE BECOMES INCREASINGLY ACCESSIBLE (VIA ALL METHODS OF MEDIA TO ALL AGE GROUPS); HOW DO YOU FEEL THIS WILL IMPACT/SHAPE THE FUTURE OF THE POLITICAL PROCESS IN GUERNSEY?
When I first became a States Member in April 2000, aged 36, I joined an Assembly with 57 members at the time, and I remember that I was one of only a handful of successful candidates who had used email during the campaign. In fact whilst far more members had access to a computer most were operated either by staff or family members, very few knew how they operated! Very few members had mobile phones let alone Blackberries, WAP enabled phones or what we now call ‘smart phones’ which would become increasingly popular during my second term (04-08). There was no provision of computers, allowance for such, or indeed any access to electronic equipment for the ordinary States Member. I had set up my own domain (letocq.co.uk) several years earlier, and prior to that had used a yahoo email account since 1994. I acquired a phone which enabled me to read emails during that first term just as the Civil Service, organisations and individuals interacting with politicians began to communicate increasingly electronically. Clearly the rise and rise of electronic media has meant that the last few years have seen politicians especially, dragged (many of them kicking and screaming) into this brave new world in which most of us live. Who can tell what the future holds? In terms of public policy debate social media offers I think the most accessible route towards transparency, healthy interaction and information dissemination. But like all means of communication it requires a choice to be made to engage, behalf of both the people, as individuals, and their representatives.
IN LIGHT OF RECENT DEBATES ON STATES MEMBERS BEING SOCIALLY ACTIVE THROUGH THE LIKES OF TWITTER, HOW WOULD YOU VOICE YOUR OPINION AS A FREQUENT USER YOURSELF?
Again, like all means of communication social media requires discipline; to tweet or not to tweet? That is often the question! And to help decide what to tweet when the answer to that question is yes, it requires a serious appraisal of who your audience is and how they will interpret this information. Bearing in mind the opportunity for virtually immediate response and ‘dialogue’ on Twitter for example, as compared to other media, such as TV or printed media, I have to conclude that social media is an improvement and I am not scared away by it, despite the risks which I need to regularly review. There are risks in all areas, we must simply weigh them up regularly, and make informed decisions.
HAVE YOU COME ACROSS ANY PROBLEMS OR HAD TO INTEGRATE RISK MANAGEMENT ON ANY OF YOUR SOCIAL CHANNELS?
Most problems are common to most forms of communication, as mentioned above. With regards to issues unique to social media (eg. the fact that some interlocutors can choose to remain anonymous when they interact with you) risk management is essential and I implement that in a number of ways such as:
- getting key people around me (including my wife and colleagues) to review what I post, how I respond to whom, and inform me of their thoughts and concerns.
- keeping abreast of reports, investigations, public high profile cases involving public figures and their use of social media and looking to learn the lessons from these.
- randomly checking with those I regularly engage with who are not so well known to me that what I am saying is generally clear (even if they disagree with the message) and that my manner and attitude come across as respectful.
- without sounding alarmist, I also have to listen to regular legal advice on what I communicate politically and this includes via social media.
AS SOMEONE WHO HAS PREVIOUSLY BEEN A MEMBER OF THE STATES, HOW HAVE YOU FOUND THE CORRELATION OF TRADITIONAL METHODS WITH THE EVER EXPANDING BENEFIT OF NEW MEDIA PLATFORMS?
We are in limbo land in my view; the ‘ancient regime’ is fast fading and we are beginning to wake up to the power of social media, both locally and globally.
HAVE YOU GRASPED ANY PARTICULAR OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH YOUR SOCIAL CHANNELS DURING YOUR ROLE AS DEPUTY CHIEF MINISTER?
Yes there have been several so far. For example two of those who engaged with me (anonymously) on Twitter raised issues on social policy which I thought were worthy of further investigation, so I arranged to meet them personally. Both, independently, indicated that they would never have normally engaged with a politician let alone a Minister on such matters and had no previous history of doing so. It was the debate and the manner in which it had transpired on the Twitter platform which had encouraged and enabled them to express their views. Also as part of my portfolio is international affairs, representing the islands’ interest outside of the Bailiwick, I have found that Twitter is often the medium of choice for politicians and officials in other nations, and they are quick to respond when they find out I use this means regularly too. This has cut through levels of bureaucracy in several instances and enabled me better to keep in touch with them.
WHAT STRATEGIES/DIALOGUE ARE THE STATES ENGAGING IN/CONSIDERING FOR THE FUTURE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS?
In the first few weeks of becoming Minister for the Home Department I was involved in a senior level review of communication by our law enforcement agencies. As a result of our discussions then a Police Facebook page was established, providing information on policing, criminal activity and means of prevention, and the like has proven highly successful from day one in getting a wide cross section of the public engaged in preventing and helping to solve crime. A Twitter account has also been established with links to the Facebook page. This initiative has been somewhat of a test case for other potential agencies and States bodies and so I well expect this to expand.
Similarly the ICT sub-group, a Commerce & Employment led project, which also involves the Home and T&R Departments, is seeking to promote use of social media along with policies to generate business and digital commercial enterprise.
DO YOU FEEL THAT THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA TOOLS SHOULD REMAIN THE INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY OF STATES MEMBERS OR OR DO YOU FEEL DEPARTMENTALISATION OF SOCIAL MEDIA USE IS NECESSARY? OR BOTH? (ACCOUNTABILITY)
A bit of both seems good to me. There are certain messages and types of information that make more sense coming from a Department or official source. Politicians generally should be free individually to express and engage with others using social media if it is to retain its potential for greater transparency and access.
WHAT INSPIRATION DO YOU TAKE OR FEEL THE STATES SHOULD CONSIDER WHEN ASSESSING SOCIAL MEDIA STRUCTURE/USE MOVING FORWARD? IS THERE A PLAN OF ACTION?
First of all the States is just waking up to the fact that electronic media (and the plethora of potential uses that comes with it) is not just a passing fad, but actually a jolly good idea! The idea of a corporate service centre based on the ability to communicate quickly using electronic means would have been thought as impractical or dangerous only a decade ago, but here we are with the Hub and SAP. The potential of social media is just beginning to be grasped. The political people power evidenced in the so-called Arab Spring in Egypt and the Middle East is beginning to be evidenced. We are not at the stage of clear plan being formulated, partly because the States is huge in Guernsey terms –the largest employer– and we need to take key people with us. But the good news is we have a strong nucleus of politicians and key leaders who do see the potential. And don’t be fooled by stereotypes, not all the older members are non-engaged with social media, and not all the younger ones are engaged or even positive about it! Work in progress.
HOW DO YOU FEEL PUBLIC USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS ALTERS THE ROLE OF TRADITIONAL MEDIA? INCREASINGLY NEWS AGENDA IS NO LONGER IN GOVERNMENT OR MASS MEDIA HANDS. IT SEEMS TO US THE PUBLIC PROVIDE THE ‘NUTS AND BOLTS’ WHILE THE TRADITIONAL MASS MEDIA MAKE THEM ‘SPIN’?
I am not sure what the long term effect will be on traditional media; at the moment some seem to be engaging and positive, while others reluctant or defensive. I know for many in traditional media environments they feel they need to do both now — their day job in traditional media, as well as keep up with and run stories on social media too; just to keep their heads above water. That’s probably true. Our Press chooses often to publish a whole page and run other stories which focus on social media interactions or even have been initiated by social media content. It seems to me this aspect makes their job a little easier in some ways! I generally welcome an environment where the stories are not being led by an editorial bias, but can flit from one group of the electorate to another.
OPINIONS DERIVED FROM SOCIAL MEDIA HAVE THE POTENTIAL TO SHAPE THE CONSTRAINTS UNDER WHICH LEADERS OPERATE?
This is true, but then true leadership involves having the strength of conviction to engage proactively and positively with alternative views to your own, and not just being tossed about by every wind and whim of public opinion, never mind where it originates from. If that’s what we want then let’s just rely on holding a referendum for every policy decision! Having said that I welcome the greater and more real accountability that social media seems to bring with it.