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Things to do this weekend

The Texas Democratic Party State Convention is in town starting tomorrow. Here are some of the things I plan to do:


The HDCC was instrumental in getting the House Democratic caucus to 74 members after the 2008 election. It will be equally instrumental in getting it back after the 2010 debacle and redistricting. Plus, the Bad Precedents really rock.


Social Media Perspectives: How Citizens Can Rebuild the Party Through Smart Outreach

Have you ever said to yourself “You know, I like this blog but what I really want is to hear Kuff talk about blogging”? Well, you’re in luck. I don’t know exactly where it will be on Friday at 11 AM – I have this sneaking suspicion that Rachel will just tweet the location once it’s been set and assume that we’re all smart enough to figure it out, or at least that if we don’t figure it out we didn’t belong on the panel anyway. Regardless, if you can find your way to the Hilton on Friday, you can probably find your way to this panel. And if you see me wandering the hallway swearing under my breath, please help me find it as well.

In case you miss the Social Media Caucus and were concerned you wouldn’t have any further opportunities to see me in person. I was there for that first, really small, event back in 2004, and I’ve been to the two much bigger events in 2006 and 2008, and it’s always a load of fun. Come see for yourself. See PDiddie‘s post for more.


From 10:30 to noon, I’ll be at the ROADWomen event in the Presidential Suite at the Hilton. Free food, and one last chance to hang out before heading back to the real world.

These and other events can be found here. I may turn up for some other things, but barring anything unforeseen I’ll be at these events. Hope to see you there.

Presidential Pinterest

A while back I wondered if political campaigns would try to leverage Pinterest as part of their social media strategy. At least one well-known campaign has now jumped on it.

Obama cupcakes

In case you missed it, Barack Obama [Tuesday] officially became the first U.S. President to launch a Pinterest page. His campaign staff announced the move on Twitter today.


Obama is not the first to use Pinterest for political purposes. Groups like liberal-leaning Think Progress have employed it to poke at GOP candidates. Ann Romney, wife of GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney, has a page of her own to collect recipes and post campaign photos.

So what will the president use his page for? Well, if his current social media strategy is any indication, he will use it to disseminate his popular memes — catchy images and videos designed specifically to spread virally on the web (His campaign Tumblr page also is used for the same purpose). Already, Obama’s Pinterest page has some pep to it. The page features photos of dogs wearing Obama gear, cakes shaped like Obama’s campaign logo and even disarming photos of the president himself.

Welcome to Political Campaigns circa 2012.

Indeed, and note that the fact that there’s also a Presidential Tumblr page wasn’t even worth remarking on. As long as your campaign has the resources to ensure these different campaign platforms remain lively and updated, I’d say you can’t have too many ways to communicate with voters. Who do you think will be the first Texas officeholder or candidate to climb on the Pinterest bandwagon?


Rachel brings up a topic that I admit had not occurred to me.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Pinterest.

Chances are, if you’re a woman, your hand is up right now.

Chances are, if you’re a man, you are either rolling your eyes because you’ve heard of it and are sick of hearing about it or you are a little confused.

Pinterest has exploded onto the scene as the new up-and-comer, particularly after it was announced that Pinterest is driving more traffic to websites than Google Plus, You Tube and LinkedIn combined. I’ve been watching the Pinterest frenzy with some interest, as it’s one of the first self-expression networks that women dominated before men even knew what was happening.

Naturally, that has caused some (male) pundits to discount Pinterest’s staying power.

Regardless of where you stand on whether or not Pinterest is the Next Big Thing, there’s no doubt that it’s A Big Thing Right Now which means it’s time for all you politicians to climb on the bandwagon, rosin up your social skills and start putting it to use. Here are a few tips to get you started.

I admit, I knew nothing about Pinterest beyond knowing that it exists and noticing that the only people I knew who seemed to be using it were women. But like Rachel, I’m intrigued by the possibilities of a platform like this for political purposes. Seems to me that in an election year that has been and will be about denying access to birth control, denying access to health care for women by de-funding Planned Parenthood, and generally treating women and their doctors as being incapable of making their own decisions, and given that the voting bloc Democrats need to be bringing to their side are “disproportionately young, female and secular”, it doesn’t take a social media guru to see the possibilities in a female-oriented community whose goal is to “connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting”. Annie’s List, I’m especially looking at you. Here’s one way of doing it, if you can’t think of anything offhand. You’re smart, you can figure it out from there. Everyone knows how to use the tools from the last election. The first people to figure out how to use the tools for the next election will have a huge advantage in it.

The case for using social media in the schools

Sounds good to me.

A year after seventh grade teacher Elizabeth Delmatoff started a pilot social media program in her Portland, Oregon classroom, 20% of students school-wide were completing extra assignments for no credit, grades had gone up more than 50%, and chronic absenteeism was reduced by more than a third. For the first time in its history, the school met its adequate yearly progress goal for absenteeism.

At a time when many teachers are made wary by reports of predators and bullies online, social media in the classroom is not the most popular proposition. Teachers like Delmatoff, however, are embracing it rather than banning it. They argue that the educational benefits of social media far outweigh the risks, and they worry that schools are missing out on an opportunity to incorporate learning tools the students already know how to use.

What started as a Facebook-like forum where Delmatoff posted assignments has grown into a social media component for almost every subject. Here are the reasons why she and other proponents of educational social media think more schools should do the same.

The arguments they make are persuasive to me. As we know, some school districts in Texas have done a good job of dealing with social media, while others largely have not dealt with it at all. It’s clear to me that it can’t and shouldn’t be ignored, so we may as well find some people who can figure out how best to make it fit in our schools.

School social media policies

The DMN has an interesting look at how Dallas-area school districts handle social networking by its employees.

[S]chool districts and teachers trying to reach and engage students and parents find that using the latest and most popular technology is faster, cost-effective and meets students and parents in their communication comfort zones.

Some teachers have established their own blogs and Facebook pages for their classes.

“It’s a wonderful way to reach out and get immediate feedback,” said Bob Morrison, superintendent in Mansfield ISD. “If you have your students subscribing to a classroom Facebook page and they’re having a debate about a topic, the teacher can see that and use it in her class.”

Large districts, such as Dallas ISD and Fort Worth ISD, have established districtwide Facebook pages. Some have created Twitter accounts, blogs and YouTube videos to spread district news. Mansfield ISD is working to create a smartphone application that would allow parents to check their children’s athletic schedules or add money to their lunch accounts.

“Technology is here. You can either embrace it or run away from it. We chose to embrace it,” Morrison said.


The Mansfield ISD employee handbook warns teachers that electronic communication should be limited to “matters within the scope of the employee’s professional responsibilities.” For classroom teachers, that means “matters relating to class work, homework, and tests” and for employees directing extracurricular activities, a similar stick-to-the-subject directive.

The policy also prohibits employees from “knowingly communicating with students through a personal social network page.” Employees may have their own social media pages for personal use, but they are to communicate with students through separate professional social network pages only and must allow administrators and parents access.

That’s a sensible attitude, and a sensible approach. Obviously, it’s more relevant today in districts where home computer use is more prevalent, but again we know that Texas schools will be using technology a lot more in the near future, so it’s best to get your arms around this now.

The article notes that the Texas Education Agency prefers to let individual ISDs set their own policies on this rather than impose a standard from above. So I wondered: What are HISD’s policies regarding social media for its schools and employees? I didn’t find anything on the HISD website, so I sent an email inquiry to them. Here’s the response I got:

Access to social media and networking sites (like YouTube and Facebook) are blocked from district computers at all schools and offices. We do not have a district Facebook or YouTube page. But, HISD does have a twitter account and following. The messages are posted by our communications department or by the superintendent himself. We do not have a policy addressing social media sites someone may access and post on during their off duty hours. We do address the issue to some extent in the Code of Student Conduct through our policies regarding cyber-bullying. There is also a state law that makes it a crime to access a computer from someone else’s account and post matters under their name with the intent to make others believe that the account holder is posting it. Additionally, the district can take action for matters posted by an employee, if it has a direct and substantial impact on their performance of their duties, or if it appears that there is a relationship that goes beyond the professional relationship between teacher and student. Employees are not restricted regarding their ability to have an account on a social networking site, however, as the article demonstrates, there are a lot of pitfalls should matters posted on the site extend beyond professional matters and stray into personal matters.

I actually found several HISD-related Twitter feeds, including HISD Media, HISD Recruiter, HISD Special Ed, and the main HISD feed itself. Superintendent Terry Grier is on Twitter, as are at least four trustees: Greg Myers, Paula Harris, Harvin Moore, and Anna Eastman. I have to say, I rather like the Mansfield approach, and I hope HISD will give this some more thought.

The city of Houston’s social media guidelines

I received the following email from Justin Concepcion, who manages social media for Mayor Parker’s office, in response to the questions I asked in this post about how the city of Houston handles social media:

We are in the process of creating a social media policy for the City of Houston. However, currently, it is still in the draft phase. I’ve been working very closely with our legal department and a COH social media committee to ensure the policy fits all the parameters needed to address this growing field.

As far as utilizing social media, the previous administration already encouraged city departments to utilize it as a communications tool, so many of the departments already have sites established. They are listed on their respective site and on here: – The policy we’re creating is to address growing concerns on how departments should use it and personal use by city employees.

He also said they have just released the first phase of their new website, and that he will pass along my comments about having each departments’ social media links on their homepage, which most of them already do have. My thanks to Justin for getting back to me on this.

Social media guidelines in San Antonio


There’s no standard policy or set of procedures governing how public entities or their employees should use social networking sites. Agencies are in various stages of evaluating what constitutes proper online conduct.

Bexar County is writing a social media policy that would address personal networking. There’s nothing about it in the county’s computer resources use policy, last amended in June. The city of San Antonio put out an administrative directive in January that explains how employees should represent their departments and themselves online, spokeswoman Di Galvan said.

“The city of San Antonio was one of the first to have a social media policy that’s been implemented in the state,” Galvan said. “We tried to find other policies and really couldn’t find any that addressed a municipality. Employees want guidelines, and that’s what we provided to them.”


The city hasn’t defined exactly what would be considered inappropriate. The directive puts it this way: “Ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself as a City professional, appropriate with the public trust associated with your position, and conforms to existing ethical standards.”

The city has comparatively strong rules for how its departments must manage their social media networks — and it has 58 such networks. The Police Department doesn’t have one yet, but the Fire Department does.

Just curious – does the city of Houston, or Harris County, have any such guidelines for their employees, or for how its departments must manage their social media networks? I think both are a good idea. One simple thing that ought to be a part of the latter is to ensure that various departments’ social networking sites are prominently linked from their departments’ home pages. A quick tour of the City of Houston and Harris County department pages shows a few that are and many that aren’t. You can find the Houston Public Library on Facebook, and you can find the Harris County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook, but you can’t find either of them linked from their respective department homepages. I must note that this is no different from San Antonio, where you can find the San Antonio Convention Center on Facebook, but you wouldn’t know that from its official homepage. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

Kirk Watson’s “Monopoly Busters”

I hadn’t written about State Sen. Kirk Watson’s Monopoly Busters drive before now – see here for his announcement of it last week. The primary goal is to decide which House incumbents will receive campaign contributions from Sen. Watson, but the secondary goal, which really may be the most important one, was getting more Texas Democrats – officeholders as well as the grassroots – involved in social media and online outreach. Turns out that’s been a big success.

Yesterday, we exceeded the 10,000-vote threshold – as well as all expectations for the success of this effort. The organization and energy that have gone into the last 10 days have been inspiring.

The question now is how to keep that energy flowing. As I’ve said before, while the $10,000 contribution that just one legislator will receive provides an excellent catalyst, it isn’t the biggest benefit of the Ballot. Instead, the biggest benefit will be the social media networks and email contacts that every representative will reap from participating. Clearly, this is a rare opportunity to get and keep Democrats engaged in your campaigns, and I want to do all I can to maximize it.

Yesterday, I received a letter from our State Party Chairman, Boyd Richie, which is attached. Noting the positive effect that the Ballot has had in these legislative races, Chairman Richie proposed extending its benefits by doubling the number of candidates who move on to Round 2. I think it’s a great suggestion – one that dovetails with some things I’ve heard and thoughts I’ve had about this effort and where we should go from here. And I’m writing to let you know that I’m taking his advice.

After Round 1 ends at 5 p.m. today, I will announce the ten candidates who will move on to Round 2. I believe that increasing participation and making the Ballot more open will cause the benefits to multiply, as well.

You can go here to cast your vote. I cast mine for Rep. Kristi Thibaut, who is running second right now. Round One ends today at 5, and Round Two will follow shortly. Thanks to Sen. Watson, whose example I hope will inspire some copycats, for doing this.

Let’s do the time warp again

Businesses try to restrict Internet access for employees, employees diligently try to find ways around these restrictions. What year is it again?

It’s a common complaint from young people who join the work force with the expectation that their bosses will embrace technology as much as they do. Then some discover that sites they’re supposed to be researching for work are blocked. Or they can’t take a little downtime to read a news story online or check their personal e-mail or social networking accounts. In some cases, they end up using their own Internet-enabled smart phones to get to blocked sites, either for work or fun.

So some are wondering: Could companies take a different approach, without compromising security or workplace efficiency, that allows at least some of the online access that younger employees particularly crave?

“It’s no different than spending too much time around the water cooler or making too many personal phone calls. Do you take those away? No,” says Gary Rudman, president of GTR Consulting, a market research firm that tracks the habits of young people. “These two worlds will continue to collide until there’s a mutual understanding that performance, not Internet usage, is what really matters.”


There is, of course, another side of the story — from employers who worry about everything from wasted time on the Internet to confidentiality breaches and liability for what their employees do online. Such concerns have to be taken especially seriously in such highly regulated fields as finance and health care, says Nancy Flynn, a corporate consultant who heads the Ohio-based ePolicy Institute.

From a survey Flynn did this year with the American Management Association, she believes nearly half of U.S. employers have a policy banning visits to personal social networking or video sharing sites during work hours. Many also ban personal text messaging during working days.

Flynn notes that the rising popularity of BlackBerrys, iPhones and other devices with Web access and messaging have made it much trickier to enforce what’s being done on work time, particularly on an employee’s personal phone. Or often the staff uses unapproved software applications to bypass the blocks.

As a result, more employers are experimenting with opening access.

Didn’t we have this debate, like, last decade? I realize that Internet usage is more pervasive now, but the basic threats – productivity losses, exposure to malware, corporate security breeches, bandwidth overload – are the same, and people are now that much more used to having the Internet at their disposal. I don’t see how trying to clamp down now is going to be any more successful than it was ten years ago when the debate was over employees’ usage of email, though perhaps the current dismal environment for job-seekers will put a temporary lid on the complaints about it.

Of course, if employers really want to kill of websurfing at work, I have a simple solution for them, which I can guarantee will work: Make IE6 your standard platform, and disallow any updates to the browser or installations of new browsers. That’ll keep ’em out of Facebook and on their jobs.

Doing it in the Facebook with the Twittering, HCRP-style

Lisa Falkenberg checks in on the Harris County Republican Party’s efforts to bring social media skillz to their masses. It’s easy to make fun of them for this – okay, it’s easy to make fun of them in general – but I figure that theirs is a party that needs to enter the 21st century on many things, so any step in that direction is a good thing. That being said, I think they’ve got bigger issues to deal with than just a lack of Facebook savvy, as highlighted in this bit at the end of Falkenberg’s piece:

Eighty-year-old Ruth Hasty of Spring Branch got the message loud and clear. She came for education and got it.

“I’ve heard of Facebook. I get these messages and I would like to know what it’s all about,” she said. “I probably will sign up. I think it’s a pretty good venue.”

Jack O’Connor, 61, of Houston, agreed, saying if Obama can e-mail people from Europe during the campaign, Republicans can organize over Facebook, although he acknowledges the age obstacle.

“As you can see, there’s not many people under 40 here,” he says. “I think this is re-enfranchising people who are over 40. And I think that’s good. Let’s wake up.”

The thing is, old people – and as someone on the wrong side of 40, that includes me – already vote. They turned out in force last year, in fact, for all of the good it did the local GOP. Now maybe the Harris County codger contingent lagged the rest of the state, or maybe the increase in older voters here was driven more by minority turnout than elsewhere, I don’t know. What I’m saying is that I don’t think the marginal gains to be had by energizing older voters are all that great, and even if they are, I’ll take the Democrats’ appeal to the under-40 crowd over it any day. When it’s the kids that are doing it in the Facebook with the Twittering for the local GOP, that’s when I’ll take notice.

“Texas Democrats’ First Truly Statewide Campaign of the 21st Century”

Go read Phillip’s analysis of the Bill White campaign and its effective and extensive use of social media. Good stuff, with lots to think about.

Tweet it! The cops!

New frontiers in social networking and law enforcement.

Milwaukee’s department is one of a growing number of police and fire agencies turning to social networking Web sites such as Twitter, which lets users send text-message “tweets” to a mass audience in 140 characters or less. The tweets can be read on the Web or on mobile phones within seconds.

Some departments use Twitter to alert people to traffic disruptions, to explain why police are in a certain neighborhood or to offer crime prevention tips. Others encourage leads on more pressing matters: bomb scares, wildfires, school lockdowns and evacuations.


One risk of Twitter is that anyone can go on the site and claim to be the cops. In March, the Texas attorney general’s office shut down a phony Twitter account called “Austin PD,” which had about 450 followers and used the official city seal.

The culprit has not been arrested, so his or her intent is not yet known. Mainly the tweets were in a joking vein, such as “Warming up my radar gun for SXSW,” a reference to Austin’s South By Southwest music conference.

But the potential for more dangerous misinformation worries Craig Mitnick, founder of Nixle LLC, which offers what it calls a secure “municipal wire” that public agencies can use instead of Twitter to broadcast updates.

Web sites like Twitter or Facebook are “meant for social purposes and not for trusted information,” Mitnick said. “It’s a bombshell waiting to explode.”

[Milwaukee police spokeswoman Anne E.] Schwartz pointed out that anyone concerned about the validity of the Milwaukee police posts on Twitter can call the department, and she said most of its posts direct readers back to the police Web site as well.

I could be wrong, but I think the fake “Austin PD” example will turn out to be an exception. Twitter is sufficiently easy to use that I think most law enforcement agencies will adopt it sooner rather than later. Plus, how hard is it really to verify that a given account is legit? If nothing else, I’d expect that any new law enforcement-related Twitter sighting will get checked out via traditional media, many of whom have enthusiastically jumped on the Twitter bandwagon or by crowdsourcing pretty quickly. I seriously doubt that any copycat attempts will be nearly as successful as “Austin PD” was. There may be value in a product like Nixle – I’m not familiar with it, so I can’t offer a judgment of it – but I think calling Twitter and Facebook a potential bombshell for law enforcement is a serious overbid.