I recently had opportunity to talk with local business man and social media guy Jim Csek. We did a podcast which, unfortunately, the audio turned out with an echo. I really liked this interview with Jim and while I could have redone it I have found, during my years in radio, once you ‘redo’ a taping the responses are never quite the same and for the most part you want that initial gut response from people. Not to say Jim said anything controversial, its just what he said was really good. So I put that journalism degree to use and transcribed the 10 minute interview which I haven’t had to do since my interning days…
Anyway please read the interview below and if anyone has any advice on Pamela call Recorder…please let me know.
Jessica: Hello its Jessica Samuels once again and welcome to my podcast. Joining me today is Jim Csek from, well let’s see, Csek Creative, Welcome to Kelowna and Kelownavotes.com among others. Jim thanks for joining me today.
Jim: No problem it’s great to actually speak with you.
Jessica: Jim give a bit of background on your area of expertise and exactly what it is you do before we get into the meat of the topic here today
Jim: Well Csek creative is a web development company that’s been in the Okanagan Valley for the past 14 years. WelcometoKelowna.com is one of our first projects. It’s a community portal and recently, along the lines of a community portal stuff we created kelownavotes.com for the recent civic election.
Jessica: I recently sat on a panel with Jim discussing social media and democracy across the world. Today I wanted to talk about social media and democracy as it pertained to the civic election here in Kelowna. A bit of background we just had our civic election here in Kelowna but was interesting this year is that we had a record number of candidates running. Jim was it because we had a record number of candidates or was it because it was more of a sign of the times because social media has become so prominent that you decided to put up Kelownavotes.com?
Jim: I think there were a number of reasons we decided to do kelownavotes.com one was that there was a lot of candidates running and it was hard to get through all of that information and the other was because social media – we’ve seen what it’s done in other areas of the world now with democracy and we just thought we would give the candidates and the community a way to interact with each other in the election to get more information from them.
Jessica: I want to specifically talk about the candidates and the role social media played before, during and after the actual election. You guys started the hashtag ‘kelownavotes’ and those of you in the social media scene would know what that means. I actually found it quite useful I put it in one of my streams and I could see what was being discussed, I found it as a great tool to see which candidates were actively participating in discussions or just going through the motions of being present in the weeks leading up to the election. What were your feelings about the use of the hashtag and how the candidates used social media. Were you surprised? Disappointed?
Jim: First of all we didn’t actually do the ‘kelownavotes’ hashtag we did the kelownavotes.com which utilizes the hashtag which was actually started out by the City of Kelowna. We just put together a vehicle that allowed the people ….(cuts out)….election for sure as far as social media went and I would say ill prepared in a lot of ways as far as their websites went t and I would just say that most of them were trying to get ready for the election 3 weeks in, 3 weeks to go.
Jessica: Right…you did cut out for a minute there. I just want to make sure you were talking about the candidates there and that they were really ill prepared and did not use it properly.
Jim: I would say yes most definitely. We offered a free service to candidates to come in and get training or help them put up their twitter page or their Facebook page. We were taken up by about 6 of the, I think there were 49 candidates that were running for councillor and about 5 I think for the Mayor and about 11 or so for the (school) Trustees.
Jessica: Okay, so why do think there were not more who took you up on that offer, what do you think was the reasoning for that decision that they made?
Jim: I think a lot of it was just being unprepared. I think a lot of people did it on a spur of the moment and thought there was a….I guess maybe a lot of people were unhappy with the current situation so a lot of people that it was a good time to run for election. And with that they didn’t think there was much to it. Just put your name out there and hopefully get elected. Buy a few lawn signs and it’s done.
Jessica: So I’m wondering , and this is my perception, it wasn’t so much of a fear or lack of understanding of social media as it was more generally, which you can say about any election, that it was that people really didn’t know what it took to run for office. I mean you could say that about any election.
Jim: I would say that’s the most accurate, especially for this one here. Not being a provincial or a federal election municipal elections tend to be most unprepared, across Canada. But I would say a lot of the candidates had no idea what they should be doing and taking the time frame of 3 weeks to run for an election – you know some of the guys were running for Mayor and one of the guys didn’t even have a cell phone and I think as a Mayor you should want to communicate with your constituents.
Jessica: The ones that took you up on your offer for help with social media, what percentage or were those that ones that got voted in?
Jim: For sure there was a couple of them that made it, but some of them that came were so far behind the curve they had nothing to start with and had no idea what to do, I think, but I mean they did respectful, in the previous election they may have got elected they got in the 5 thousand vote range and in the previous election that would have got them a seat. This election you needed 10 thousand votes
Jessica: Right, and again, it was a really unique field and a really unique situation for us in the Okanagan. So some would say okay, and we are going to get to this in a minute – now they have been elected have they been on social media, but that percentage doesn’t make an obvious case for why politicians or anyone should be on social media because it would seem, well if only a couple got in and who knows if it’s because they were engaged on social media they got that seat.
Jim: Yah, I would say that for this election social media probably played a smaller role in it but I think when the time comes again in 3 years it will probably be a significant factor in the election. I think we are kind of just getting our feet wet with social media, especially Twitter and that stuff, in Okanagan area. And I think there is one candidate we helped and I think by her accepting that help it probably got her that seat. It wasn’t the biggest determining factor but I think it definitely pushed her over that mark, you know, they were so tight for 7th, 8th 9th.
Jessica: Now that we are post election, the elections were more than a month ago the new council is in place, they’ve had a couple meetings under their belts what is the landscape of social media for council. Who has kept it up or how many have managed to keep it up?
Jim: Actually I’ve put together some stats because I knew you were going to ask me that question.
Jessica: Ha ha ha.
Jim: Ha ha ha and what we’re saying is, we’re not saying this is a bad thing. We’re going to put out we’re willing to help again, we’re willing to help these people communicate. Because we think communication between the citizens and the elected officials should be paramount and they should embrace that. I know for a fact the City of Kelowna provides each one of the elected officials an iPhone and an iPad so they have the tools to communicate with us – it’s not that hard. So as far as a Mayor goes, Walter Gray, he had a Twitter account, he had a Facebook account and he had a website, as of right now all three of those have been deactivated. So he has, at this moment, no communication in the social media area that I can find.
Jim: So next we have Maxine DeHart, she has a social media Twitter account, a Facebook account and website all of which are still active. During the election she made 219 tweets since the election she has made 10 tweets. And there’s really been nothing other than a thank you message on her website. But we’ve spoken with Max and Max wants to continue on with it and wants to continue to communicate with her…with the citizens of Kelowna. Luke Stack we see, he has his website up, he never had any social media going on at all. He has his website up, he has updated it since the election. Colin Basran made 31 tweets during the election, since the election he has made one. He still has his Twitter account up though. Gerry Zimmerman had no social media at all. He had a website and he still has that website which hasn’t been updated. Andre Blanliel made 29 tweets during the election, since the election zero. Mohini Singh made 10 tweets during the election, since the election she made zero. Rob Hobson had, that we could find, no website, no nothing up, Rob Hobson’s been a councillor for quite a while. Gail Given had a website which is still up. The two other elected officials that are still using social media quite actively are Norm Letnick and Chris Gorman, one of the School Trustees that was elected. So they are still actively tweeting and communicating with their constituents.
Jessica: And so, as we wrap up here, when we look at social media, and to refer to something you retweeted earlier today, I think from a Globe and Mail article about the role of social media in 2012…we have this fresh new council here…you’re active in the community, I’m active in the community – this is going to post this on my website and we’re going to tweet about it…what do you think this says to the constituency that is active in social media? What kind of message this sends? We got on the ball, or on the bus…well I don’t want to put words on your mouth but now they are off the bus. What message do you think this sends, or what people perceive from this?
Jim: I would think it’s not a very good message. You used us, or I would say some people might look at it, you used us when you needed us. You used the streams that were available, when you got what you needed you turned us off and that’s not a very good thing. So I’m just hoping that most of them just don’t know how to use it and that’s why we’re going to offer again free training and resources to them to get back out there and communicate with the citizens of Kelowna. I mean, I think that’s what a good politician should do is listen as well as speak to the citizens.
Jessica: Right and perhaps we can account some of this to being a bit overwhelmed. I mean, they are average people like you and I, they have a new job, they were new to social media, I mean when I was new to social media I sure am glad there was nobody monitoring how many tweets I made and some of the stupid things I said on Twitter and Facebook. It sounds like you are willing to cut them some slack and give them some more time to get back into the swing of things.
Jim: I think we have to. I mean it’s easy to say they should be doing it –but it is kind of hard. But they do have tools, the City of Kelowna provided them the tools as well, they gave them the iPhone they gave them the iPad, so the tools are there and it doesn’t have to become overwhelming. It’s a way to communicate to let the citizens know what’s going on. I mean it’s out there everywhere. If you watch any news broadcast you’ll see they’re running twitter feeds and you’ll see anybody that is in the spotlight and they are in the spotlight, they asked to be in the spotlight, it’s kind of a duty of theirs to make sure they communicate with us.
Jessica: Jim before we go, final question. Do you think social media is changing democracy? I mean not only here but across Canada and around the world. Do you think it’s changing how we live in our political community?
Jim: I would think so. When I look back at history, my mother escaped from the Hungarian revolution back in 1956 and back then what they got was the voice of the radio. She said they listened to Free America Radio where it said keep fighting the American troops are coming, but of course there were no troops coming but that’s what they understood. So they only had that one so they didn’t have a voice out, there was no voice for them per se to let the world know what was going on. The only time they got to speak was when they were actually outside of the country. I think now with social media, although the government can shut it down, is that we have more of a voice and if it becomes concentrated enough it actually gets heard. Like you see Occupy Wall Street and that, some of those movements have gathered some steam and garnered the attention of the news media which then amplifies that message. So I do think it does help for sure. It allows more people to speak and if it’s concentrated it gives it a greater voice.
Jessica: Jim, thank you so much. Jim Csek from Csek Creative as well as WelcometoKelowna.com as well as on Twitter @jimcsek is that correct?
Jim: That is correct
Jessica: Alright thank you so much
Jim: Thank you Jessica.