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Enjoying the social benefits

Social media … the very words scare the hell out of some people.

Invariably those who have been tempted to try and communicate through those means and been shocked at the response a seemingly [to them anyway] innocuous post attracted.

For the meek and mild in particular, it is a world far away from what they perceive as fair and reasonable, and they generally want no part of it.

That’s not me.

Like most politicians I see most forms of communication as having more pluses than minuses and, like most politicians, I have a thick enough skin to see the flak associated with social media as more a hazard of the business than anything else. You soon get to know those who are going to criticise you no matter what the issue.

And while you always need to keep an open mind, just in case they occasionally come up with pearls of wisdom, you learn to treat them as “necessary evils” rather than someone whose opinions should be valued at all times.

It’s the old “keyboard warrior” syndrome, isn’t it? It takes a lot less guts to criticise from in front of a computer screen than what it does face to face.

I mean I would love a dollar for every time I have been taken to task on Facebook for instance and asked for the “assailant” to book a time for a face-to-face meeting, only to never hear from them again. It’s now one of the constants in my life.

It was Facebook which introduced me to the advantages and perils of social media. I hadn’t given any thought to becoming a Facebook subscriber when I was chatting to my wife Barb six or seven years ago about how best we councillors could converse with our constituents.

For me the importance of listening to “the people” can never be stressed too strongly to anybody considering standing for seats at local body level, but while that sounds all well and good you also need a way to make it happen. So when Barb suggested giving Facebook a crack I was open to the idea and from there the website Masterton Matters was created.

Never for a moment did I ever see Masterton Matters reaching the stage where, according to Facebook stats, it now has 8300 followers; at first I was thinking just a few hundred would be about where it would get to. And, honestly, I would have been quite happy with that.

Right up until I became Mayor in October last year, it would be fair to say the majority of posts on Masterton Matters came from readers messaging me using their real names but requesting that their posts be published anonymously so they did not have to endure flak from other readers.

Of course that made it virtually impossible to silence the doubters who saw these posts likely coming from me more than anybody else but, frankly, that never worried me personally as the whole idea was to get a conversation going, and if that aim was achieved then how people thought it was being done was never going to be a distraction. But it was definitely all above board!

A big learning was that Facebook posts are more popular at certain times of the day; 7am and 7pm being clearly the most productive times for comments on Masterton Matters.

Another learning was that some people found it very easy to get off topic, to complain heatedly about things which had nothing to do with the original post. The need to ban them was an unfortunate consequence of that.

Overall though Masterton Matters rather quickly achieved its primary objective of enhancing communication channels and while the mayoralty meant posts and comments had to be “toned down” to some extent, its following remains as strong as it ever was.

The main point I am trying to get across here is that social media is pretty much what you make of it.

It has its downsides and its upsides, but as a form of communication it takes a lot of beating, and that’s why those of us who use it keep going back, warts and all!

Roger Parker
Roger Parker
Roger Parker is the Times-Age news director. In the Venn-diagram of his two great loves, news and sport, sports news is the sweet spot.

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