Twitter messages inform politicos, constituents

By Kathrine Warren
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

As debate over Senate Bill 228 dragged into the wee hours of the morning on March 3, Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, used his Blackberry to send Twitter updates to his constituents.

Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, left, Twitters on his Blackberry between committee sessions on Wednesday. Kopp is one of many state lawmakers who has adopted the use of social networking technology to communicate legislative happenings.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

As he looked across the Senate Chambers, he realized he wasn’t the only one.

“A lot of us Republicans were Tweeting from the debate,” Kopp said. “I could see two or three computer screens with Twitter up.

“As the minority party, you’re naturally less relevant as far as traditional media is concerned,” Kopp said. “and (using Twitter) allows us to let constituents know what we’re up to and demonstrate to them that we’re taking a stand on really important issues.”

Suddenly, Twitter is all the rage — even among Colorado lawmakers.

So, what, exactly, is it?

According to Dave Husted, a senior associate with Point B. Inc., a Denver management-consulting firm, Twitter is “an aggregator of people who discuss things at 140 characters.”

Or, more colloquially, “like-minded instant messaging.”

Because Twitter messages — known as Tweets — are limited to 140 characters, some users think of them as “micro-blogs.”

And, at the risk of sounding like the transcript of a Sylvester-Tweety Bird cartoon, let us note that a person who uses Twitter is known as a “Tweep,” and that a group of these beings are “Tweeple.”

Although each Tweet must be succinct, a Tweep may “follow” as many Tweeple as he or she likes. Tweets are listed in the recipient Tweep’s account in chronological order, like RSS feeds.

Twitter is a free service that anyone can join at Twitter.com. A non-Tweep can visit someone’s Twitter site by adding his or her user name after www.twitter.com/, and users can
reply to Tweets by using the @ sign before the designated Tweep’s user name.

Twitter gives ordinary Tweeps access to anyone on the system (a population that grows daily) — personal friends, family members, musicians, elected officials, celebrities or anyone else deemed Tweet-worthy.

Journalists Tweet to post links to their stories, and some — such as David Gregory (davidgregory) of Meet the Press, use it to engage audiences by asking for input on interviews or upcoming shows. Some newspapers use Twitter to provide live coverage of events by sending text message from cell phones or Blackberries.

Last September, a reporter from The Rocky Mountain News was criticized by Tweeple worldwide for Tweeting from the funeral of 3-year-old Marten Kudlis, who was killed when a pickup truck crashed into an Aurora Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop.

Businesses and nonprofits are learning how to use Twitter as a free marketing tool to get the word out about products and services.

Husted — who admits he has an unhealthy obsession with technology — is the Tweep responsible for bringing Kopp (senate22) into Twitter World. Since then, Kopp has been using Twitter to tell his constituents — or anyone else — what he does with his day.

“I really just wanted a faster dialogue,” Kopp said. “There’s been a lot of talk about (Twitter) getting the message out, but I want to be able to communicate with my constituents.”

Kopp recently invited Husted to speak at the New Media Caucus, which gave Republicans in the Colorado House and Senate a primer on blogging, Twitter and other instant media.

“Dave helped us see how you should connect everything you are doing. And Twitter is a really good way to help you do that,” Kopp said.

Other Statehouse Tweeple include Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs (sen_schultheis); Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Colorado Springs (tedharvey), Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora (karenmiddleton) and Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll (speakercarroll).

Carroll began Tweeting on Feb. 17, the day President Barack Obama signed the Economic Recovery Act in Denver. He now can Tweet from his Blackberry and computer and has even connected his Tweets to status updates on the popular social networking site Facebook.

“A lot of people think politics is a strange thing, but by being able to Twitter, I’m able to give them an insight about how we conduct our business,” Carroll said.

Colorado political Tweeple also include Gov. Bill Ritter (govritter), U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-CD 6 (RepMikeCoffman); U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-CD 2 (jaredpolis); former Congressman Bob Beauprez (bobbeauprez), and former Congressman and recent U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer (bob_schaffer).

Twitter also was a campaign tool for U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, (markudall), but he hasn’t been Tweeting since November. The Obama campaign set the campaign standard by using Twitter as just one of many tools to communicate with voters.

Each politician’s Tweet style is unique. It might be a candid narrative offering the lawmaker’s impression of his day or a headline with a link to a press release posted by a staffer.

According to Wil Alston, deputy communications director for the Governor’s Office, staffers — not Ritter — maintain the governor’s account.

“We’re taking a page out of the Obama book on how political offices communicate with their constituents,” he said.

Ritter’s Tweets are primarily headlines and links to corresponding press releases.

“For us, it’s about getting information out as quick as possible, because the traditional concept of media has changed so much,” Alston said.

He said that the office is still figuring out how they’ll best use the Twitter account to communicate with Coloradans.

Twitter can also be a tool for politicians to get information from their constituents and other Tweeple they follow.

“Every couple days, I go through and peruse the Tweets that people say,” Kopp said. “I cannot tell you the value of things that I’ve read.”

“It’s not just an information-rich environment, but it’s very relevant,” he said.

Carroll appreciates that Twitter makes him accessible to constituents.

“Someone who doesn’t have my cell phone can respond to my Tweets and I get a notice on my Blackberry,” he said. “You get instant feedback.”

Kathrine@coloradostatesman.com