Some Capital Region lawmakers are adding a bit of fun into their workdays by taking selfies with local residents.
Assembly members Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, and Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, have embraced the selfie, using the photos as a way to connect with their constituents.
“When I am out in the community I just try to be as accessible as possible and I want people to know that I am approachable,” Santabarbara said. “A lot of these events don’t make headlines, so I try to bring people in and be a part of the event through the selfies.”
Santabarbara is kind of a selfie superstar. When he goes to an event, people run up to him and ask to take a selfie. Approachable? Check.
“People ask me all the time to take a selfie,” he said. “It is an exciting thing for them.”
Tedisco said he started taking selfies to “keep up with the trends.”
“We want to follow the trends, and we want younger people involved in government,” he said. “Doing these selfies is something new and different.”
The other subjects they pose with for their selfies range from guests at an event to the Union College hockey team to livestock. (Fun fact — selfies with farm animals are called “felfies.”)
In April, Santabarbara visited Dutch Barn Farm in Fort Plain and took felfies with goats and sheep, posted them on his Facebook page and got 33 likes. He also went to Serendipity Farms in Delanson and took felfies with alpacas, which drew 11 likes on Facebook.
Santabarbara also posts his selfies on Twitter, where he has nearly 2,000 followers.
“I rarely take selfies by myself; I do them with people,” Santabarbara said. “If I am visiting a farm I take photos with the animals because I want to share it with my constituents. People get to see the excitement and get a feel of what is going on even if they’re not there.”
But social media is not just about selfies. Tedisco said Facebook and Twitter are great ways that he can reach out to constituents quickly and efficiently, and at lower cost.
“I think it is a good thing when we can have quicker interaction and more feedback on policies and legislation, because we are here to represent our constituents,” he said. “It saves money, too. I have saved the taxpayers $130,000 in districtwide mailings. I don’t see the need when I can use email, Twitter, Facebook and other websites.”
Santabarbara uses 10 social media sites on a daily basis including Instagram, Flickr, and Tumblr. He said he doesn’t see it as a campaign strategy, but a way to “show who I really am.”
“I have heard of people who have others run their social media, but I want it to be authentic and have the words coming from me,” he said. “I am just doing what I normally do. Social media is my personality coming out.”
Bob Bellafiore, founder of Stanhope Partners communications consulting firm and former press secretary for Gov. George Pataki, said many politicians try to do social media but very few actually make it work.
He pointed to President Barack Obama’s campaign as an example of making it work. But he said the president’s social media effort was part of a strategy geared toward user engagement.
“Simply doing Twitter isn’t going to get you much except tired thumbs,” Bellafiore said. “Being on Twitter and Facebook is something that everybody uses to a certain extent, but it takes an amount of sophistication to turn that from a toy into a tool.”
Obama takes selfies, too. On April 16 in the back of his limousine, Vice President Joe Biden got Obama to join him in his first selfie on Instagram, and the photo received more than 50,000 likes.
But Bellafiore said that he sees selfies as a trend that has already “played itself out.”
“I almost think of selfies as mood rings,” he said. “It’s a trend and it’s a troubling one because it shows a big amount of self-absorption. But as a political tactic, it is free and it is a way to communicate and put information out there.”
Oxford Dictionaries named selfie its Word of the Year for 2013. According to Oxford, the use of the word selfie increased by 17,000 percent over to 2012. There is also a song by The Chainsmokers titled “#SELFIE” and an upcoming television show called “Selfie” that is set to air on ABC this fall.
George Bizer, a professor of psychology at Union College in Schenectady, said social media is not the most effective way to talk to people, but it keeps a politician’s name and image out there.
“The more accessible they are, the more likely people will vote for them on Election Day,” he said. “It is also one way to draw in younger people to politics and get them to vote.”
Santabarbara said the way people communicate is changing and will continue to change as technology advances. He is looking to keep up with the times.
“It is a different way to communicate and start discussions,” he said. “I get a lot of feedback, and I think people appreciate it.”