Social media platforms provide an innovative new way for public figures to interact with the public, far surpassing the effectiveness of
traditional media outlets in helping prominent individuals communicate with the public. Despite the potential pitfalls, public figures, like politicians, business leaders or university presidents would do well to join these platforms in order to interact with the public in a more efficient and genuine manner. Joining social media is optional, which means that public figures can stay away, but the appeal of the platforms should draw them in.
Many congressmen, CEOs and deans have already joined Twitter and Facebook with great success, becoming part of an exciting and democratizing platform that allows the once-unreachable to connect with the masses. It benefits both the figures and the public, and these days, those who refuse to join seem to lose out. Take for example the 2008 presidential election: President Barack Obama used social media to mobilize historically disenfranchised populations while John McCain was left behind. Social media is where the people are — for an election or a revolution — and public figures should want to be with the people.
It should be noted, however, that public figures need to understand how to properly use social media in order to reap its benefits. For example, public figures shouldn’t feel the need to join every social media site or app. No matter what Senator Rand Paul seems to think, the keys to the Oval Office are not on Snapchat. In order to promote their causes, public figures really only need to join Twitter and occasionally reply to some comments. People like Elon Musk have proven it’s free advertising and genuine connection, utilizing Twitter to make announcements about his businesses and interacting with commenters. Politicians make political statements and sometimes debate the issues using the platform. Senator Ted Cruz even Tweeted about the launch of his bid for president on Monday. Presidents of universities respond to questions and concerns about the school by regular students.
Sexton has faced many issues with his own public image — his NYU 2031 campaign, labor abuses at abroad sites and loan for his Fire Island vacation home. Perhaps Sexton could project a more positive image with approachability through social media — after all, despite Sexton’s controversies, he has tremendously improved NYU’s standing. If Sexton had a Twitter, he could have quickly responded to professor Andrew Ross being barred from entering the UAE by commenting on the situation in 140 characters or less.
These platforms provide ample opportunity for public figures to spread their ideas and messages in innovative new ways. The ability to interact with the public and quickly respond to issues or controversies is a valuable tool that should be utilized by all
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 24 print edition. Email Matthew Tessler at [email protected]