Steve Webb, Liberal Democrat MP for Northavon, held a “drop in surgery” with a difference this morning – on social networking website Facebook.
He’d advertised the time in advance, to his 3,867 Facebook friends: “Steve will be online on Facebook Chat tomorrow (Thursday) between 11 and 11.30am. Log on and chat if you want to raise anything with me.”
This morning around 200 of them – a mixture of constituents, party members and others – were online for the chat session. Steve likened the experience to “one of those plate-spinning acts that you see on variety shows on the TV”. (Fortunately, he types fast!)
Shortly afterwards, I spoke to Steve, who declared the experiment a success. I asked him why he chose Facebook’s live chat facility.
“It was instant: people asked short questions and I could immediately clarify any points. I found it very efficient as it broke down barriers. It’s helpful being where people are, in the idiom that they’re used to.”
When participants raised points which needed further follow-up, Steve asked them to send him a private Facebook message so that he could get to work on the details afterwards.
Steve took part in a live Q&A session with Lib Dem Voice back in December, using “Cover it Live.” I asked him how the two live chats differed.
“The Cover it Live Session was more intense: that had technical questions about global warming and subjects relating to my role then as climate change and energy spokesperson.
“Today’s session was more chatty and a friendly introduction. Also Cover it Live was public whereas this was a series of private conversations.
“The people I was chatting with couldn’t see each other’s questions and so I was able to deal with each person in confidence – just like my regular face-to-face constituency surgery.”
Steve said that he hasn’t heard of any other MPs conducting a Facebook surgery, but left me with this thought:
“I wonder whether today has been the start of something: Do you think one day all MPs will be doing this as part of their regular contact with constituents?”
Read more on Steve’s own blog: The Webb Log.