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Gov. David Ige’s staff promoted a media briefing on homelessness a full day ahead of the Sept. 1 event.
The press availability, which announced that more homeless people in a Kakaako encampment had been moved to shelters, was to be live streamed on the governor’s web page via the official YouTube account.
It was thoroughly promoted on the governor’s official Twitter account the day before and when the briefing went live on Periscope, the trendy live-video streaming application for iOS and Android mobile devices.
But when technical problems thwarted the live stream, journalists who were trying to tune in were left in limbo.
In a way, it was a microcosm of Ige’s digital ventures so far: The intent is there, but sometimes the results are less than stellar.
Yasmin Dar, the governor’s digital media specialist, told Civil Beat the plan had been to live stream the briefing from her laptop computer. But the audio didn’t link, and a backup computer — plan B, as Dar describes it — also failed.
Dar texted Jodi Leong, Ige’s deputy director of communications and press secretary, to stall the the press conference for a few minutes, but the glitch couldn’t be fixed in time.
Fortunately, a press release was soon issued covering the highlights of the event, and all 38 minutes was recorded on a camcorder and is available online. It was also streamed on local television news stations.
— Governor David Ige (@GovHawaii) September 1, 2015
Ige’s use of social media reflects the man: competent, efficient, contemporary and undemonstrative. The use of Periscope is an example of the administration seeking to expand its messaging.
But Ige’s digital profile is also finite and unshowy, sober and often bland. It communicates little about Ige as a “brand,” to use au courant marketing vernacular.
There is nothing flashy or edgy about the governor’s social media content, and very little about Ige the person that comes through online.
In an age when President Barack Obama is Instagramming selfies while climbing a melting glacier in Alaska (to underscore his policies to mitigate global warming) and Donald Trump is capitalizing on Google News algorithms to propel his meteoric campaign for the presidency (he recently described Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin as “a major security risk” and “the wife of perv sleazebag Anthony Wiener, observes Politico), Ige’s online persona is careful and controlled.
At the state and city level, elected officials like Gavin Newsom — the former mayor of San Francisco and the current California lieutenant governor — are taking a more front-and-center approach. Just this week Newsom tweeted out his pointed retort to a jibe from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another Republican candidate for president, who wondered aloud why Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples while Newsom was not jailed for doing the opposite in 2004.
Ige’s presence on Twitter and Facebook, his videos on YouTube and his photos on Flicker primarily reflect his official, routine public activities such as press conferences, policy statements, public appearances and bill signings. There is nothing flashy or edgy about the content, and very little about Ige the person comes through online.
Local social media experts say the governor might want to consider ways to reach more constituents directly, to not only learn of their thoughts and ideas on challenges facing the state but to engage more directly with the people.
Ige’s official social media account never seems to miss a bill signing or groundbreaking. The same goes for his website, which duly chronicles the usual press releases, proclamations and executive orders. Such readily accessible information is essential to journalists.
Social media consumers may soon tire, however, of commonplace tweets like “HNL airport travelers reminded to use International Parking Structure during Labor Day wknd: http://1.usa.gov/1JUeFoo” or “HI-EMA NEWS RELEASE: Minimal impacts expected from weakening
#Ignacio on path north of Hawaii #hiwx http://1.usa.gov/1JsMgly.”
Far rarer but more interesting tweets do provide some insight into Ige the man. A tweet on Father’s Day, for example, showed Ige as a young father with his three kids. Another showed the governor and his wife Dawn at the White House with the caption, “Entering the East Room with my beautiful date.”
— Governor David Ige (@GovHawaii) June 21, 2015
The governor’s Facebook page is similarly unobtrusive but with a couple of quirks, too. Because it’s a “fan” page, there are no “friends” per se.
In terms of “liking” other Facebook accounts, however, Ige’s page lists the mayors of Maui, Kauai and Oahu but not the Big Island (no Billy Kenoi) and three of Hawaii’s four members in Congress (former Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s now inactive page is “liked,” but not the page of the person who replaced her last year, Mark Takai), likely an unintenional omission.
There are a few uncensored cracks in the comments stream, including these:
Asked about the Thiry Meter Telescope comments, Dar says, “Our policy is everybody has freedom of speech, the right to voice opinions. We respect that. But there have been some instances where it has crossed the line or targeted someone with maliciousness, and we report that. But we try to respect everyone’s opinion as much as possible.”
When vulgar language is used, Dar says the comments are removed.
Local tech-savvy experts suggest that Gov. Ige could do several things to improve his social media use.
Neenz Faleafine is the CEO of Faleafine Enterprises, the parent company of a digital media marketing agency called Pono Media. Faleafine calls herself a “social disruptor,” which she explains is someone who “works to change the status quo.”
Faleafine was social media director for Neil Abercrombie’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign, helped Ige with his 2014 campaign to unseat Abercrombie and — full disclosure — is still retained by Ige’s campaign. During the first six months of this year, Pono Media was paid about $20,000 for consulting on social and digital media.
Faleafine gives the Ige administration credit for recognizing that it had to have a strong digital presence once in office.
“I did not have to say, ‘Hey, can we please make a suggestion for digital tools?'” she says. “It was an automatic, they knew that they needed it. And Yasmin has a wonderful personal brand, with her feet in both the traditional and social media industries. She is very much aware and she knows how to use both to communicate.”
One suggestion Faleafine has is for Ige’s digital team to solicit direct and even interactive feedback from users on possible ideas and solutions to challenges the state is facing. That would require expanding from essentially a one-person operation to a team.
“There are so many stories to be told in one day about state government, let alone just the governor,” she says. “There are not enough hours of the day.”
Faleafine wants to see a greater effort from the administration in hearing from constituents.
“Not just opinions, but ideas, constructive ideas,” she says. “There is a responsibility on both sides, for the administration to ask but also for those who are commenting. Sarcasm and fun remarks, that’s interesting, but we are talking about the future of Hawaii and how to take us to the next level.”
Faleafine acknowledges that encouraging the administration and constituents to trust social media rather than keep it at arm’s length is a big hurdle. Commenting freely online amounts to being, in her words, “in that space of vulnerability.” But she argues that it’s worth it.
“When people realize that this is an opportunity to really share what you are thinking, well-thought-out comments, that could lead to a conversation with a deputy or director or even the governor to move something forward,” she says. “That vulnerable space is not a scary place but one of anxious excitement.”
During Ige’s 2014 campaign, Faleafine helped the social media team reach out to the neighbor islands to not only connect with voters but also to wear down perceptions of an Oahu-centric bias. She says Facebook is a particularly effective platform for reaching folks.
“Almost 900,000 Hawaii residents have a Facebook account,” she says. “Not all of them are active, but many are selective and just watching. And so we knew that we needed to put information out for them on Facebook and use things like Eventbrite to push meetings for those savvy enough to use it.”
“I wish I had something to react to,” Ozawa says. “Maybe I am not paying attention at the right times, but compared to even congressional teams and even state legislators, I feel like I have a better idea what they are up to even if they are just going to a community picnic.”
“Almost 900,000 Hawaii residents have a Facebook account.” — Neenz Faleafine
Ozawa mentioned state Sen. Glenn Wakai and state Rep. Matt LoPresti as examples of politicians using social media effectively.
Ozawa says Abercrombie’s online “brand” was much stronger than Ige’s. Even though the former governor did not use a computer, he hired tech-savvy people for his campaigns and his administration.
“It could be just confirmation bias, because I feel the same level of disconnect with the administration overall,” he says. “They just don’t register or resonate with me. It’s not part of a coordinated message or an identity. I felt that Abercrombie had a personality that was expressed on every channel. Whether you like him or not, you got him wherever you tuned into him.”
Ozawa suggests that Ige be more aggressive in reaching out to social media users to get his points across rather than hope that people will just visit a website.
During the Carleton Ching nomination process and the ongoing Thirty Meter Telescope controversy, for example, the administration has responded in old-school ways such as press conferences and press releases. By contrast, opponents of TMT and the Land Board chair nominee were successful in attracting support through social media, often leaving the administration in catchup mode.
“You need to take advantage of the tools to reach the people where they will be,” says Ozawa, who nonetheless expressed support for the hiring of Dar in March and the use of Periscope. (Another full disclosure: Ozawa’s co-host at HPR is Burt Lum, who ran Ige’s social media operations during the 2014 election.)
An electrical engineer by training, the governor is no stranger to technology. His priorities as a state senator included pushing the Senate to dramatically reduce the use of paper, a policy he has continued as governor.
Dar says that Ige uses an iPad when he attends meetings and gives talks rather than reading from printed-out remarks. Ige himself does not use social media and Dar, a former KITV reporter, says she is working to elevate Ige’s online existence and faciliate a two-way environment.
— Governor David Ige (@GovHawaii) March 5, 2015
In addition to reporting on traffic and social media for KITV, Dar, 30, holds a master’s degree in communications from the University of Hawaii. Her thesis looked at how the 2010 campaigns for Hawaii governor and Honolulu mayor used social media to appeal to younger generations to go to the polls.
Dar’s office will soon launch an official Instagram account and is in the process of revamping the website. She is using the website of Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, as a template of sorts, a website that Dar admires for its use of white space and photos.
Though she has no staff, Dar frequently collaborates with Leong, another former KITV reporter; Ryan Kalei Tsuji, yet another KITV reporter who is Ige’s special assistant and chief protocol officer; and Communications Director Cindy McMillan, who led communication efforts for Pacific Resource Partnership and was an executive vice president at Communications Pacific.
Dar points to Obama’s use of social media as one that she aspires to emulate.
“I would love to get on that level, to have people follow the governor and have those sound bites that really show his personality,” she says. “People don’t know that he is really funny, with a really dry sense of humor. It catches you off guard, but you see it in more private and intimate forums.”
Dar adds, “He also tells stories that you can relate to — why he does things a certain way. A lot of people just see what’s in the media and they don’t really see the boss we have. He’s awesome.”
Don’t expect to see Ige on top of Mauna Kea with a selfie stick, however.
“Definitely not!” says Dar. “But the governor is akamai, really tech savvy. He gives input, and we ask him for what feels comfortable. For the most part it’s all about being as transparent as we can but without divulging everything in the office. It’s a work in progress.”