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Meet Adriel Hampton: A Social Media Candidate for Congress

June 2, 2009

Ask anyone what they think the previous occupation of a Congressman was, and they’ll probably say “lawyer.” Or career politician. They might picture someone in a stuffy suit, making lots of promises they don’t keep. And it’s true that many members of Congress have backgrounds in law or business, and often have great personal wealth or super-connected families at their disposal to give them a leg up in the campaign.

But Adriel Hampton is refreshing because he’s not any of those things. Adriel is currently running for Congress in the 10th district of California — and he’s one of our very own social media guys, among other things. He’s a pioneer and thought leader in the realm of government 2.0 and open government. He even made headlines for how he announced his Congressional campaign: via Twitter.

Last week I had the chance to interview Adriel about his bid for Congress — check out what he had to say about politics, government, social media, and transparency. This is a guy who truly believes in changing American politics and OPENING government to the people. He’s running for Congress to bring real change to Congress – I’d say that’s something to get excited about.

NC: Tell us about yourself. Why are you running for Congress?
AH: I’m running for Congress because I deeply feel that our system is broken. People say it takes a half million dollars and name ID to even think of running – and that’s the problem. I’m running to show that what it takes to serve as a representative of your community in Congress is vision, a record of community building and some really hard work.

As far as social media, I’m a longtime journalist in addition to my current job as a municipal investigator. I began blogging in 2003, used blogs for environmental and development campaigns after I left newspapering in 2005, and I got really involved with the “2.0” tools in 2008 around the Barack Obama campaign (though in 2005 I did speak at the Webzine conference on blogging and journalism). I use social media as a two-way channel and I’m really excited to see mass communication moving away from broadcast and becoming more person-to-person. I’m very active with GovLoop, a network for gov employees, and was introduced to lots of collaborative tools for activism by Jon Pincus last fall during the anti-bank bailout fight. As you know, I’m very active on Twitter, which is a natural medium for me based on my communication style and career as a journalist. I founded Gov 2.0 Radio on BlogTalkRadio along with several friends from GovLoop, and, lastly, I help with official social media outreach for my employer, the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office.

NC: You’re being called by some the first-ever social media candidate for Congress. What does this mean to you? What role does social media play in your campaign and in your platform?
AH: I know that I’m not the first politician to use social media, by far. However, I think that meme is out there because I’m one of the first people to embrace social media before running for office. Until this local congressional seat opened up with the planned resignation of the incumbent, I was in school and pursuing a career as a city manager. I believe social media is key to the effective democratic governance of this country because of its relative transparency and the ability to talk to many people and build rapport and exchange ideas faster and more broadly than ever before. I also support net neutrality, which I believe is important to preserving the growth of social media. I’ve also been able to recruit a large number of volunteers from social media channels based on relationships we’ve built through public conversations.

NC: Given that many people running for Congress are not from new media backgrounds, do you feel there are any unique challenges you’ve run into as a social media candidate? Do you feel there are any different expectations or standards?
AH: There is always a challenge when you try to do things in a more transparent manner. I like to talk about issues, and that opens me up for attack. When you have ongoing conversations about difficult issues, especially in a political environment, you’re going to find people who don’t want to have a conversation but rather want to find something to disagree with. I think being so open on social media channels is going to give traditional mudslingers more to work with against me.

NC: Do you ever worry about the fact that everything you say is recorded online, and might come back to you one day?
AH: Sure I do! However, I’m not just fighting to win an election, I’m fighting to change the “gotcha” culture of American politics. If I can build a large base of people who know and trust me, as I have in my personal life, it will protect and encourage others who also want to change the nature of American politics. I believe we can do this, even if I have to take some painful hits as one of the pioneers.

NC: Has the use of social media tools helped your campaign? How?
AH: Most definitely. Being an early adopter of these tools has helped me create a niche in the Gov 2.0 community that gives me some national prominence and has generated a lot of press coverage for my campaign. It’s also helpful to be out and active in social media because I’m more ready for tough questions when I encounter them out on the trail. In addition to the aforementioned volunteers from social media, I’ve also been asked questions on Facebook and Twitter that then come up in other forums. I’d say it’s made me a much more prepared candidate.

NC: Have you tried convincing your peers in the political realm to use social media tools to engage with citizens and voters? What has been the response?
AH: Well, Nisha, there is no problem getting politicians to use social media to try to raise money or get volunteers. I’m much more interested in encouraging Web 2.0 adoption for governance, and that push has to come from the citizens for elected officials to see its value. That’s why I and some friends recently put on a “Citizen 2.0” training, working to get people more involved in pushing for these tools to make government more effective and responsive. Back to the politics for a second, I did start Twitter accounts for some of my opponents, linking to their bios and asking them to contact me if they wanted to use them. State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and independent candidate Gino VanGundy took me up on it and are using their accounts a bit.
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Adriel Hampton is a journalist, Gov 2.0 and new media strategist, public servant, and licensed private investigator. He is running for U.S. Congress in the 2009 special election for California’s 10th District. Follow him on Twitter at @adrielhampton or @adriel4congress.

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3 comments

  1. Everyone is into social media these days.


  2. Very cool, I love that he’s embracing new media. Can’t wait to see how he does! Thanks for bringing this unique politician to our attention!


  3. […] I tolerated the site for more than a year after that, building up a following of more than 2,000 over the summer for my social media-fueled bid for U.S. Congress. […]



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