Insider Spotlight: The Snapchatting Governor

Gov. Roy Cooper released his 2017-2019 budget plan on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at Durham Technical Community College in Durham, N.C. Cooper called the $23.5 billion proposal the right approach, reflecting increased spending for education and other priorities that he says will seed a more prosperous state. The budget "shows what you can do if you make the right kind of investments, if you don't spend time continuing with corporate tax giveaways, continuing tax breaks for the wealthy," Cooper said. Republicans called $1.1 billion increase in additional total spending reckless. The legislature will develop its own budget proposal independently. The new fiscal year begins July 1. (Clifton Dowell | NCInsider.com)

By Lauren Horsch | NCInsider.com

RALEIGH — If you want to take a peek at what running the state of North Carolina is like, Gov. Roy Cooper is giving you a glimpse on Snapchat.

His recent postings on the social media service include a photo of the Democratic governor on his way to Robeson County for conversations with hurricane victims, a video of him in Rocky Mount declaring April “NC Beer Month,” and even a shot of him and First Lady Kristin Cooper to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

Experts say those stories will help Cooper reach younger constituents, even if they don’t neatly fit into the state’s system for archiving communications.

Snapchat is an instant messaging app for smartphones that allows photos, videos and messages to disappear after they’ve been viewed. Cooper is not the first politician to join the messaging service. President Barack Obama used it, as did many Republican presidential hopefuls. U.S. Senator Thom Tillis is a Snapchat user.

Anyone with a smartphone can download Snapchat and start sending their own Snaps, complete with add-ons that append dog ears, rainbow vomit and other decorations to selfies and videos. Cooper, whose username is ncgovernor on the service, and Tillis, senthomtillis, have thus far appeared unadorned by the app’s filters.

The service is popular with younger voters between the ages of 18 and 35, said Joe Cabosky, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s School of Media and Journalism. It has become a tool for many politicians to connect with potential voters.

“At the presidential level both the Trump and Clinton campaigns used it,” Cabosky said. “And I think probably so far the candidate that used it the most effectively was the Bernie Sanders campaign.” Sanders’ campaign was noted for its robust outreach to younger voters.

He said Snapchat is one of the “top two or there places to reach anybody who votes that is under 35.” He noted the platform isn’t as useful for reaching those over 35, who tend to congregate online by way of Facebook. Not only does Snapchat appeal to a younger cohort, Cabosky said it’s gained popularity among certain minority groups, such as African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and Latin-Americans.

“That’s why it’s not a surprise to me at all to see, especially a Democratic (governor), in some ways appealing to his base,” he said. Snapchat users, he said, are “people who may be inclined to vote for him or be engaged with him.”

Cooper tends to be less whimsical than other users. Typical is a video sent at 12:06 p.m. on April 12 in which Cooper tells followers he just finished a speech at Central Community College in Sanford. Earlier that day he’s pictured holding a dog on the school’s campus.

“Snapchat is just the latest platform to help Governor Cooper spread his message,” Ford Porter, Cooper’s press secretary said in an emailed statement. “Whether it’s behind-the-scenes action from the road or messages directly from the Governor, his Snap story is a look into the job that Governor Cooper does on a day-to-day basis.”

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis’ office uses Snapchat in a similar way. Lexie Hosier, Tillis’ digital director, said the senator joined Snapchat because “it’s evolved into one of the largest platforms for reaching a younger audience.” She said in an email, “It’s a simple and casual way to keep North Carolinians updated on what’s he doing.” In recent Snaps, Tillis talked about helping small businesses and cyber security.

The platform is ephemeral by design. Snap stories like the one Cooper favors are collections of photos and videos that can be seen by followers for 24 hours before they disappear. That’s cause for concern for archivists and those who depend on public records. In July 2015 the National Archives released a bulletin outlining what constitutes electronic messaging and what types of electronic messaging needs to be archived. Those messages include Snapchat and other messaging apps like Slack, WhatsApp and even Twitter direct messages. There are similar rules for the state.

Porter said the Governor’s communications department — which runs the account — is complying with records retention laws. His office is working with the State Archives to work on best ways to retain the photos and videos created on Snapchat.

Camille Tyndall Watson, Digital Services section manager with the State Archives, said the State Archives’ guidelines for using social media are fairly general — don’t connect to your personal account, think about your audience — those sorts of things. The State Archives uses two products that capture social media activity by state agencies — Archive It, a web archiving service, and Archive Social, a direct-connect service with social networks. Neither of those tools capture Snapchat. Watson said there are other agencies that use Snapchat, and they can manually download those materials and turn it over to the archives.

“(Snapchat’s) not easily automated,” she said. While Watson doesn’t know of any other social media or electronic messaging apps that pose the same retention problems as Snapchat, she said the programs the archives use have adapted to changing technology. She said the State Archives is actively working with state agencies to ensure transparency through use of social media and how to retain those interactions.

“It’s a collaborative process and working relationship with state agencies and the archives,” she said. If you’re one of about 500 followers getting a glimpse into Cooper’s daily life through Snapchat, and hoping you can send him a selfie with a policy question for him to answer, you’re out of luck. His account doesn’t follow anyone, so it can send out stories, but not receive any.


Lauren Horsch writes for NCInsider.com. Reach her at lhorsch@ncinsider.com or @LaurenHorsch