Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Attention! Your governor is tweeting, and she’s not alone

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By EMILY LAWLER
Capital News Service

LANSING – At noon on Nov. 9, Governor Jennifer Granholm ate Coney dogs in Detroit with Vice President Joe Biden.

No, that’s not inside secret information or the result of stalking. It’s information displayed on the governor’s Twitter page.
Gov. Granholm's TweetThe governor is one of 23 million monthly visitors to a social networking Web site called Twitter. It allows users to create a profile and issue “tweets”- messages of 140 characters or less. A user can pick people to “follow,” and those people’s tweets are displayed on the user’s home page. Some users send or receive tweets through their cell phones as well.
Granholm isn’t alone – state agencies and other political figures are on Twitter too. Seven state agencies have Twitter accounts, including the departments of Transportation (MDOT), Community Health and Education.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has the biggest base of any agency – 2,177 fans follow it.
“I don’t know what our secret is,” said DNR public information officer Mary Dettloff.
She said DNR news appeals to a wide range of demographics, and a lot of former Michigan residents subscribe. The DNR Twitter page displays information about hunting laws, park closings and natural resources news and promotes outdoor-related events and meetings.
It also displays interesting facts. “DNR Confirms 2 sets of tracks and 1 trail cam photo of cougar in Easter U.P,” read a Nov. 4 tweet.
“It’s just an easy way for people to access information,” said Dettloff, who runs the main DNR Twitter account.
MDOT has 1,372 followers and uses its tweets mainly to promote information about road safety, traffic delays and road closings.
“We see it as working hand-in-hand with our Web site,” said Barbara Hicks, its communications manager.
Hicks said many times the department’s Twitter account links to its Web site, where the agency can provide more than 140 characters’ worth of information.
MDOT also has Twitter feeds for several parts of the state, such as one that specifically tweets traffic delays in Metro Detroit and another that tweets about construction in West Michigan.
Many agencies have more than one Twitter feed. The DNR has separate accounts for the Upper and Lower peninsulas, and the Department of Environmental Quality has a Twitter account for Grand Rapids and one for Detroit that distribute air quality predictions daily.
Ironically, an agency without a Twitter account is the Department of Information Technology.
“In our role, we don’t spend a lot of time communicating with the public,” said Matt Ferguson, an analyst with the department’s office of enterprise development.
Ferguson isn’t ruling out the possibility of a Twitter feed, noting that the department has several internal feeds. Right now, a public one isn’t on the horizon but “we might at some point.”
Political figures commonly seek publicity, and some have personal Twitter feeds. Attorney Gen. Mike Cox and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land have accounts, but Granholm’s is by far the most popular with 11,721 followers.
“People are following the governor on Twitter because it’s a great way to get up-to-the-minute information on what she’s doing,” said Tiffany Brown, a communications specialist with the governor’s office.
Since March 2008, the governor has published almost 1,000 tweets.
“She does some of her own tweeting,” said Brown. “Staff help her maintain it since the governor isn’t always at a computer.”

Many state agencies use social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube as well. One of the best things about their Internet communication is that it’s free.

“We think Twitter is a great way to provide better service to citizens at no cost to taxpayers,” said Brown.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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CNS reporters cover state government — issues and personalities.



Covering stories of meaning to their member papers, they come in contact with the important newsmakers of the day, from the Supreme Court justices and the governor to members of the Legislature and the people who run the state government departments, to lobbyists and public-interest organizations.



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