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Social Media and the Government

Social networking is about conversations, and it's a place to engage people. American politicians, companies, and the public are now online and participating in these conversations in ever-evolving ways.

America just celebrated Independence Day, a reminder of the rhetoric from one Thomas Paine. Paine was a revolutionary intellectual and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. His pamphlet, "Common Sense," was the most circulated piece of writing of its time and presented the American colonists with powerful arguments for independence from the British.

Though published in 1776, the method of Paine's influence is still a modern phenomenon. The instant popularity of Paine's pamphlet as it was near instantaneously  circulated amongst the American colonists closely mirrors the way social media can spread ideas today.

Paine's pamphlet was essentially a political blog, which now proliferate. Politicians are using social media because it's a way to engage people. Some tech-savvy politicians have even adopted the growing social platform FourSquare, a location-based social network that allows users to "check in" at locations. Consider Patrick Kennedy, a 27-year-old Democrat from Arkansas, and his campaign for Congress. Kennedy "checked in" when visiting constituencies, giving supporters the ability to stop by and meet with him.

Because social media presents an opportunity to engage with the public, it is also a crucial tool for businesses. Kennedy was the first congressional candidate to embrace FourSquare, but many businesses beat Kennedy to it. For example, Starbucks is using Foursquare to encourage customer loyalty and offer customer rewards. People who frequent Starbucks and use FourSquare to check in at retail locations earn customer rewards. In fact, the user who checks in most frequently can even earn discounts or free drinks.

Local businesses in Baltimore are starting to embrace FourSquare as well. Miss Shirley's and Ben & Jerry's are among the businesses using FourSquare to reward customer check-ins. Starbucks, along with many other businesses, have found that FourSquare can bring a significant increase in traffic and sales to any brick-and-mortar business.

Thomas Paine was limited by his means centuries ago–but we are not today. With ever-evolving technology and social networking tools, the public is now online and interacting with politicians, companies, and whoever else is ready to sign on.

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