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The Influence of Social Media on Elections: An Interview with Neenz

May 24th, 2011

Paul Merrill

L.P. Neenz Feleafine is a mover and shaker in the world of social media. She also runs Guy Kawasaki’s very useful Alltop site. Bred, born, and raised in Hawaii, Neenz has some unique perspectives on social media and making connections.

We first met at SOBCon in 2009 and have been in touch since then. It was nice to see her at South By Southwest in March 2011 – and to meet some of her family for the first time.

Recently I interviewed Neenz on the impact her social media work had on the recent election of Neil Abercrombie, the Governor of Hawaii.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced in selling the campaign decision makers on the value of social media?

A: In 2007, then nearly 10-term Congressman Neil Abercrombie (http://hawaii NULL.gov/gov/about/governors-bio) expressed to his campaign team that he believed he could better serve the State of Hawaii by returning home to run for Governor. His team knew, despite being an elected official for more than two decades, he would be challenged by a very visible Mayor and an incumbent Lieutenant Governor. His team knew that if every person in Hawaii could have a personal conversation with him, then possibly the Congressman would have a chance.

At the time, one visionary realized the power of social media, more specifically that the residents of Hawaii would participate in droves on Twitter and Facebook. Then Twitter was just over a year old and Facebook had only recently opened up to the general public. While there was a community from Hawaii, predicting that it would play a role in our 2010 election, as it did in President Obama’s election was prophetic.

I wasn’t that visionary!

I was actually invited to an event called Dinner 2.0 in early 2008 in which a dinner with the Congressman, his wife, and about six other people live streamed their entire conversation over their meal. There were no scripts, no pre-vetted questions – it was quite risky. The conversation ranged from his interest in the 2010 gubernatorial election to Japanese cuisine. It was very transparent, authentic; very social media if you will.

At first, I was more intrigued with learning about the different tools the campaign was using. I had just entered the emerging world that we both now earn a living, doing something we love which the industry has named social media. But I’d rather call, community building.

As with everything I do, I put my heart and soul into learning the industry and the different tools. Remember Utterz which then changed its name to Utterli, and is now in the virtual graveyard of social networks? We used that tool because it was much easier for then Congressman to publish audio clips to his Twitter and Facebook page. His site was powered by Ning, we used a hosted WordPress blog, kept track of events using Remember the Milk, and continued to use Jott until it recently went out of service.

During this experimental stage, he was actively running for re-election to Congress. Fortunately, one visionary and the faith of the campaign manager provided enough support to not only utilize social media in his gubernatorial campaign, but use it in a very progressive manner.

Q: What were some of the significant ways social media helped Neil Abercrombie win the governorship of Hawaii?

A: As I mentioned, for me, social media is about community building one relationship at a time. You see, you can’t “buy” relationships, you have to earn them through authenticity by providing value to the streams and lives of the other members of social networks. This is only achieved by listening. We did a lot of listening, both online and offline.

Q: Have you seen any change in the use of social media in Hawaii since the campaign?

A: Yes, everyone with a background in marketing, PR, advertising, IT help desk, smart phone, Twitter, or Facebook account are now social media marketers. There are some very successful traditional marketers who are building communities through social media here in Hawaii, but being a “social media marketer” or providing “social media services” are almost contagious.

On a more serious note, because I do a lot of listening, the community is growing rapidly and I couldn’t be more excited and inspired. Conversations are occurring abundantly and I’m discovering new people to connect with daily…right here in Hawaii! My excitement stems from participating in social networks, other than MySpace, when majority of Hawaii residents were happily frolicking in their Space.

Even more important, I am recognizing potential influencers within the growing community. It’s all very fascinating for me, because I truly enjoy connecting with others.

This is part one of a two-part interview. Please check back tomorrow for part two. In the meantime, you can explore more about Neenz here (http://faleafine NULL.com/).

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2 Comments

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  1. tim gier (http://www NULL.timgier NULL.com) #
    May 27, 2011

    Hi Paul,

    I am taking a course in Public Relations and my professor (who headed her own international agency for 27 years) says that anyone not using Social Media effectively is no longer doing Public Relations, it is just that important.

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