Update @2:50 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25: The House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted 13 to 5 today to kill the proposed beer and wine tax. The Idaho Beer and Wine Distributors Association and The White Space have done an excellent job using social media for public policy, the first such use I am aware of in Idaho.

Like every other communications specialist on Earth, I have been diving into social media, including Facebook and Twitter. I have set up a number of Facebook pages for myself and my clients (including Metro Express Car Wash, Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., and my own company) and gotten the word out on Twitter.

I’m especially interested in the public policy applications of social media, however, since that’s my area of focus as a PR practitioner. Marketing firm The White Space has done an amazing job rallying public attention around a proposed hike on the beer and wine tax, opposed by the Idaho Beer and Wine Distributors Association. As of this writing, nearly 1,200 people have joined a Facebook page and more than 800 people have registered their e-mail addresses on donttaxmybeer.com. I am one of about 240 people on a Twitter feed and the group hosted a Tweet Up on Thursday night. Did I mention they have a blog?

The White Space has done an excellent job using social media to raise public awareness (they’re also getting me and other bloggers to discuss the issue). But the results at this point are mixed: at the end of the day Tuesday, Feb. 24, 27 testifed in favor of the tax and 21 against, with one neutral. There’s plenty of mobilizing information on the Facebook page and Web site and dozens of Tweets have kept peopel abreast, yet only 21 people have spoken against the proposed tax. Of course, that’s going to change tomorrow, as the Legislature has had to extend hearings into Wednesday, because so many people wanted to testify. It wouldn’t surprise me if hearings went beyond Wednesday.

It’s easier to get people riled up about something than it is to get them to trudge to the Legislature in the middle of the day and wait an hour or more for the opportunity to speak their mind. The White Space and the beer and wine association have done a remarkable job in getting public support for their position. If they can translate that into large numbers of people testifying on their behalf – the most prized kind of public involvement – they will have shown that social media buzz can translate into serious clout in the public policy arena. PR wonks like me will be keeping close watch.

The White Space has blazed a trail for other Idaho PR firms and, at the very least, their work for their client is to be commended. While I support the tax, a little tiny part of me wants to see the effort to defeat the tax succeed, just to show that social media can be a potent force in the political process.

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