Many of us have held (or at least endured) webinars run for business, and even our associations. Now they are becoming increasingly common at the community and political level. Two events in two countries show how these can work and might become more common in the future.
In Canada, Local politicians in Norther Ontario held a "virtual town-hall meeting" with the national leadership of the New Democratic Party speaking from the capital in Ottawa. In Fort Polk, LA, local authorities allowed soldiers, their families and the general public to ask questions and get information through a live Facebook discussion. Both instances showed how communication tools designed for business are gaining wider acceptance in other areas of our lives.
Whether more webinars are a blessing or curse is another topic for another day, but their application in the social arena makes a lot of sense:
- Travel to public forums isn't always convenient, yet they need to be open to the public. All-candidate meetings, forums, town planning sessions and other events in any democracy should be open to the public, but even when the doors are open, they're not always easy to attend. In far-flung regions like Northern Ontario it can be miles between houses, and travel in February is a crapshoot at best. Suddenly weather and distance aren't the barriers they once were.
- A permanent record is easy to keep and easy to access. Maybe the one area where these forums are superior to "real" events is the ability to record everything accurately and archive them effectively. If you videotape a town hall meeting, someone has to maintain and house it, and people have tobe able to access it. That's easier and less expensive with a webcast that can then be posted on a website, either with password access or open to the world. Additionally, the Fort Polk event is simply a word for word transcript of the questions and answers. Remember when you were at the mercy of someone writing "meeting minutes"to try and figure out who said what to whom at a meeting? Accuracy and recording are more accurate than ever. Not a bad thing when talking about politicians and important social events. Let them try and weasel out of what they said when it's right there for everyone to see and hear.
- Oh yeah, this only works if they're handled well. While live events can get rowdy and messy, people generally understand the rules of behavior and social order. Some people don't quite have that same understanding online. Leaders should explain how interaction will take place, and monitor chat and questions for appropriateness of tone (without censoring anyone's right to their opinion). Obvious slander or "flaming" needs to be checked while allowing maximum input and comment from the audience.
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- Real leaders use social media to shut up and listen