Five Questions with Tara D. Coomans

I recently was asked to put together an article for the Honolulu Community College student newspaper, The Ka La. The article’s focus was on social media and its implications on politics and how it would affect young, college voters. It was interesting to see how many college students participate in some form of social media on a daily basis. The article will be posted towards the end of the month of October. I’ll be sure to post it on here when it goes to print. However, while researching for the article, I was able to speak to Tara Coomans.

Coomans is the Social Media Director for SEO and social media strategy company, ClearlyM, as well as the Head Brainstormer at Akamai Marketing.  She is part of the team of social media experts who have helped bring social media to the masses in Hawaii.  She is also instrumental to the success of the Social Media Club Hawaii.  It was at a SMCHI meeting when I initially met Tara.  She is well versed in the ways of online marketing and has been a tremendous source of information.  Unfortunately, my brief time with Tara was unable to make it on to the newspaper article.  Their loss is your gain.  Here is the five questions I put to Tara and some very interesting answers.  Enjoy!

Social Media Club Hawaii promotes engagement in social media.

Ryan Adverderada:  How far has social media progressed over the last 5 years?

Tara Coomans: Social media is really still in its infancy, look what’s happened in 7 short years: MySpace started in 2003. Facebook in 2004. Twitter in 2006. Gowalla in 2007. Foursquare in 2009. But to answer your question directly, the last five years have seen an explosion of platforms both on the web and on your phone. Mobile phone applications have done a lot for social networking because now you can be social in real life and still be social on your platform of choice. Think about it – before mobile apps we were all just being “social” while we were sitting alone at our computers. Kind of ironic, right? A lot of the current applications are all about location-based networking, letting your friends know where you are and when. What’s interesting about location-based social networking is that even businesses can see a very clear application for themselves using these tools; their application is more obvious to a non-social networker than say, Twitter. In 5 years you’ll look back on this article and there will be new platforms and new ways of using social media and the way we are using it now will likely seem very unsophisticated.

RA: How can social media help or hinder politicians/candidate in terms of connecting with the public?

TC: There’s no doubt that social media can both help and hurt a politician, just like any medium. The difference with social media is that you don’t just “set it and forget it.” Social media isn’t like advertising, its about engagement and conversation. Its an ongoing commitment of time, consideration and resources, just like any relationship. I think sometimes “conversation” makes politicians nervous – they like to set the agenda, not respond to it. Its also hard to put issues into context of in the (more) limited forms of social media. We’ve recently seen in Hawaii that simply USING social media doesn’t win elections. Engaging people (not audiences), is how to utilize social media. Using social media as a one-way blowhorn simply isn’t effective. However, for those that really learn how to engage an audience, communicate WITH not AT people the possibility exists to motivate core supporters to take action – outside of the social media format – particularly in the form of voting.

RA: How will social media change how we look at politics in America?

TC: I’m quite hopeful that social media will give more people a voice and direct access to our leaders. Social media has the potential to make our politicians more “real” to the public and thus allow the public to finally feel as though they actually know a politician, even if they haven’t “met” them. Consider our primary election – I saw a post-vote poll on why people voted for who they did, 4 out of the 5 people said they voted for someone because they met the candidate and thought they were “nice”. WOW. Imagine if a candidate could reach thousands, or millions of people in an intimate forum? Oh, wait – a candidate can, its called social media. But just like a candidate has to get out there and shake hands and kiss babies, a candidate has to get in there and start having conversations with people using social media. These conversations have to go both ways, and include listening and asking questions.

Search engine optimization (SEO) helps businesses become more visible and accessible.

RA: How will social media affect voters age 18-34?

TC: This is an interesting question. The biggest difference between younger people and today’s politicians within the context of social media is probably privacy vs. transparency. Younger people generally accept transparency as the “norm”, and they expect others to embrace transparency too. Despite (or maybe because of) intense media scrutiny, politicians strive for privacy, unless they can control the message and even then, transparency isn’t really all that common. I think this disconnect will be the most frustrating for younger voters. Younger voters who have grown up in an era of transparency (because of social media) could become very disillusioned with politicians who don’t seem to embrace this belief system. On the other hand, as politicians evolve in using social media as a two-way conversation, younger voters may very well embrace those politicians more enthusiastically. We saw this with the Obama campaign – younger voters were very excited because they felt they had a voice and someone who communicated with them. Social media has the potential to allow voters to better understand a politician and hopefully, increase the number of people voting. I’m also very excited to see how this generation of people uses social media when THEY start running for office.

RA: Ultimately, How will social media affect the everyday college student in Hawaii?

TC: Social media will continue to have increasing impact on the day-to-day life of more and more people. We’ll be more plugged into where our friends are, where they like to eat and what they think than ever before. We’ll accept that our messages/advertising are specifically targeted towards our likes and dislikes. Considering the potential of social media within University systems is very exciting, particularly on spread-out campuses as it opens doors for communication between professors, administrators and students.

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