Mike Baird seems like a pretty cool guy.
This morning the NSW Premier went to work in a DeLorean – the car that featured as a time machine in the Back to the Future trilogy – to mark the date, the day Marty McFly landed to find a world in which shoelaces tied themselves and hoverboards were the preferred mode of transport.
Despite the fact that he filmed his arrival and used the opportunity to spout some cheesy poli-waffle about the state’s future, the video looked right at home in my feed of memes and comments about the movie and has been watched more than 300,000 times.
— Mike Baird (@mikebairdMP) October 20, 2015
See, he’s clearly a cool, hip, up-to-date guy. A couple of weeks ago, he was even live-tweeting The Bachelor from the couch with his daughters while suffering a bad case of “man flu”.
What kind of a politician does that? A COOL one, that’s who. (Or, a clever one who has been told of the advantages of jumping on a trending topic on social media.) He’s a surfie dude.
He loves his wife.
And he seems to care about the same things we do – like an innocent three-year-old asylum seeker washing up dead on a foreign beach.
The feeling those posts invoke — that perhaps you and Mike Baird have things in common — is the benefit of social media. Detractors have attacked his prolific use of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, accusing him of being obsessed with self-promotion. But it seems to be working. Last month, he broke his PB with a satisfaction rating of 63 per cent and continued his reign as the country’s most popular politician according to a poll conducted for The Australian. Even our multi-multi-multi-millionaire PM Malcolm Turnbull tried to get on board the ‘common man’ wagon, sharing this patriotic picture of his morning commute aboard a Sydney ferry. (He’s also posted train and tram pictures, presumably to capture those who prefer other modes of public transport.)
Sydney Harbour Bridge in the rain this morning from the ferry. A photo posted by turnbullmalcolm (@turnbullmalcolm) on Sep 24, 2015 at 2:50pm PDT
It seems the pollies have finally figured out a way to engage directly with voters that doesn’t involve boring the pants off them – by being (or at least pretending to be) a regular person.
Many voters are not interested in the day-to-day humdrum of politics. For many, catching a few minutes of political news in the evening bulletin is more than enough, despite the fact that the policies and laws made by those elected suits have an undeniable impact on their lifestyle and hip-pocket. It’s a sad, but completely understandable, state of affairs.
But now politicians are taking advantage of the fact that they can stealthily endear themselves to the millions of Australians who use Facebook daily (with a reach extending far beyond their home state) by sharing small, relatable parts of their lives. And they’re banking on reaping the rewards at the polls – which, if Baird’s March re-election despite a series of Liberal scandals is anything to go by, is a real likelihood.
And no one is seizing that opportunity better than Baird.
While some candidates fill their social media feeds with relentless attacks on their opponents or promotions of whatever cause their media advisor decides is worthy, Baird is reading mean tweets about himself or sharing poignant posts about how he wasn’t the most studious pupil back in his heyday.
I know whose account I’d rather follow.
Though Baird’s social media savvy isn’t the organic, spontaneous stroke of genius, we’d probably like to assume it is.
The Daily Telegraph revealed last month that Baird charged taxpayers $30,000 for 51 days of advice from a social media whiz to get him up to scratch on using Facebook and Twitter.
That’s $600 per day for something we all managed to figure out ourselves. (FYI, that whiz is now the state government’s director of digital media.)
So, as great as it is to have entertaining posts by those whose public profile is usually restricted to grey suited, dour-faced TV grabs and repetitive rhetoric drilled into them by media advisors, the cost to taxpayers — literally and productivity-wise — needs to be considered.
Should we have to fork out for advisers to control the social media accounts of politicians just so they can appear to be real people (and thereby defeating the whole authenticity of the medium by adding another layer between us and them)?
As John McTernan, Julia Gillard’s former chief media adviser, told the ABC: “That’s all you’ve got to do, you’ve got to have your own voice. There’s no point in having some muppet… putting out your tweets.”
But, alternatively, do we want our elected officials spending as much time on social media as we do to the detriment of their policy and law making tasks?
It’s clear that for politicians there’s a fine line between completely focusing their energies on how they’re publicly portrayed and getting on with business.
Just where that line should be drawn is up for debate.