National Press Club

Social Media Helps Shine Light into Congress, Panelists Say

April 6, 2009 | By Hailey R. Branson

The job description of a Congressman: Write laws. Twitter. Debate. Appear in public. Campaign. Check Facebook.

And, if you are Rep. John Culberson of Texas, make time to do a telephone conference call, online town hall meeting, check text messages and, if you're really old-fashioned, check your e-mail. Simultaneously.

"Whether we like it or not, the electronic information superhighway will force us all to change," he said Friday during a panel discussion about social media at the National Press Club. "It's not survival; it's evolution."

Social media is an invaluable tool to lighten up the dark corners of Congress to the world and is becoming more and more important for government officials and all professionals to use in everyday life, the panelists said.

New networking tools have revolutionized the world in faster ways than anyone can imagine, said John Blossom, author of "Content Nation: Surviving and Thriving as Social Media Changes Our Work Our Lives and Our Future." It has challenged and changed time-honored hierarchies and brought civilization back to "ice age roots" of communicating from the ground up.

"You can create communities at the drop of a Twitter that create a society," Blossom said.

Because of this, he said, individuals have more power to single-handedly influence society than ever before. If properly taken advantage of, it can be a phenomenal tool, he said.

The number one thing to remember about social media, he said, is that it is meant for relationship building, whether it is in the professional or social realm. When people connect online, they are able to build a personal brand that others become familiar with, whether it is good or bad.

This brand includes those pesky party photos on Facebook as well as that polished and perfected resume on LinkedIn. As people from all generations join the tech world, the line between professional and personal has blurred almost to extinction.

"We are now a nation of glossy magazines all published in a nanosecond world," said Richard Hanley, director of graduate programs at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

With their daily reliance on social media, younger generations have helped blend the line between personal and professional so much that people can log on to Twitter and, in one glance, "see if someone had French toast for breakfast or see a link to an economic story from The New York Times," Hanley said.

"Students don't know newspapers and broadcast news," he said. "Their front page is social media. It's Facebook."