An Illinois state lawmaker who spent $20,000 from his campaign coffers to build a video and podcast studio in his Springfield office plans to use the power of social media to share his work and bring his message to more people, something lawmakers throughout the state are trying and testing.

State lawmakers are using social media more and more to reach their constituents and beyond. They share graphics, facts, figures and other information along with videos, either live or produced via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. It comes from their state offices or their campaigns.

State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, recently shared a video on Facebook that shows the lawmaker walking down a sidewalk while taking video on his phone in a segment he called “The Skillicorn Scoop.” He talked about lawmaker stipends and higher pay for state lawmakers and criticized other lawmakers for not reading bills. The video got more than 3,400 views, 92 shares and dozens of comments.

Mike Yao, an associate professor of digital media at the University of Illinois, said social media can be a powerful tool for politicians.

“These are web services or platforms that allow individuals to connect to each other based on some shared common interest, or shared experience,” Yao said.

That’s why state Rep. Jaime Andrade, D-Chicago, said he spent $20,000 from his campaign funds to build a video and podcast studio in his Springfield office.

“The perception of people is they’re with you, and I think that’s the most important thing,” Andrade said. “We’ve got to get our message out there and I think [Democrats] have been lacking a little, so that’s why I’ve put this studio together.”

Andrade’s studio has broadcast-quality microphones, three remote-controlled cameras, studio lights, a green screen, multiple computer monitors, teleprompters and a control center to mix all the pieces together. House Democrats are training a Democratic statehouse staffer to operate the equipment for members for the fall session.

Andrade said the $20,000 his campaign spent on the equipment was worth the investment. He said political groups are spending millions of dollars targeting Democrats.

“We have to do it professionally,” Andrade said. “We can’t just be doing it on a phone, a bad mic and get all the different background noise and stuff, so I think we have to take it to the next level.”

Two examples of outside groups spending big on messaging are Think Big Illinois and Ideas Illinois. Think Big Illinois, a group partly funded by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, is using traditional and social media to promote ideas such as the governor’s proposed progressive income tax. Ideas Illinois, supported by various members of the business community, is using the same channels to oppose the progressive income tax plan.

Yao said social media allows anyone to share content without relying on traditional media outlets.

“We’re focusing on letting people more democratically [share], everybody can upload a video and share it with the rest of the world,” Yao said.

Andrade said he plans to offer up his office space to his Democratic colleagues for online town halls, video presentations, updates and other social media posts.

Staff Writer

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.