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Social media meets the Elgin City Council race

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Updated: March 19, 2013 6:12AM

ELGIN — If you’re looking online for information about Elgin city council candidates, Crysta Anderson recently launched the website that will quicken your search.

“It took a few evenings and part of a weekend to build the site. I used a very simple Wordpress template and laid out a framework that won’t be too onerous to manage,” Anderson stated in a Facebook message.

Elgin voters have a crowded field from which to choose for four spots as the council expands from its current seven to nine members this spring.

Nine people are contending for a single 2-year council seat and will first face off in a primary Feb. 26. Early voting has started and runs through Saturday, Feb. 23, for the primary. Another 13 people are running for four, 4-year seats in the April 9 general election.

Anderson has been helping plan the SWAN-GPA (South West Area Neighbors-Gifford Park Association) candidate forum for Saturday, March 9, and wanted to learn about those running and their views.

“I quickly realized that details were scattered everywhere — on Facebook, Twitter, other blogs and the candidates’ own sites. And I was surprised that a few lacked any web presence whatsoever,” Anderson stated.

So she put together a spreadsheet with the details she found, decided what she thought other residents might find it interesting, and created the site.

“(Courier-News correspondent) Janelle Walker actually had a similar idea and built a Facebook list of all the candidates who have an active Facebook profile. By doing so, she seemed to inspire several of them into creating a page,” Anderson stated. Currently the site has links to candidates’ Web presences, details on upcoming forums and on the voting processes. Anderson plans to post additional updates as she finds them, and may eventually launch pages for each candidate, if the amount of information begins to grow.

“I make my living as a social media strategist, so I’m always intrigued by how people are using social tools to reach an audience, and especially how politicians engage with their (would-be) constituents,” Anderson said. “Are they responsive? Do they at least pay lip service to wanting to know what’s on residents’ minds?”

According to Anderson, some of the candidates have a very bare-bones Web presence, with rarely or never-updated Facebook pages and no real information. Others have a well thought-out strategy that has more frequent updates across several sites or platforms.

“But, importantly, some don’t seem to respond to any sort of interaction. On Facebook, that’s especially important. If someone leaves a question on your Facebook page, others viewing that page will notice an answer, or its absence,” Anderson stated.

Anderson stated that some of the better strategies she’s seen are from two-year candidates Toby Shaw and Daniel Schultz.

“Shaw has a well-integrated set of social media sites, including a website, Twitter, Facebook and even YouTube videos. Schultz seems focused exclusively on Facebook — dangerous, demographically — but posts frequently and answers questions quickly,” she stated.

Others, such as Rosemarie Kahn and Roy Chapman, really just seem to have placeholder Facebook pages with no information — frustrating given that early voting for the two-year term has already begun, Anderson stated.

“And I could find nothing beyond a personal Facebook page for Larry Wegman. His signs are all over town, but how can voters find out what he stands for?” Anderson asked.

Among those running for three 4-year seats, according to Anderson, “Andrew Cuming has a solid website and is making strides on Facebook. Cody Holt’s website and other channels have tons of information about what he actually believes. Incumbent John Prigge has used Facebook very effectively over the past couple of years to raise issues. Bob Gilliam just launched a Facebook page, but there’s not much there.”

Incumbent Rich Dunne recently set up a campaign-related Facebook page and is in the process of creating a website for this cycle.

Anderson said she has not decided whom she will support and plans to attend a couple of the candidate forums to inform her decision.

“Maintaining will help me do that,” she said.

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