New site aims at government conversations

Young adults in the U.S. want news from politicians from a variety of sources, including blogs and YouTube, and they want two-way conversations with their political leaders, according to, a new social-networking site focused on U.S. government policy.

Young adults in the U.S. seem to want to engage in genuine conversation, and not marketing, with the country's leaders, according to a MeriTalk survey released Monday as part of the site's launch. MeriTalk, founded by Washington, D.C., public relations veteran Stephen O'Keeffe, surveyed more than 2,000 members of the so-called Generation Y, young adults born after 1980.

"If they don't feel that people are updating them enough, they'll go elsewhere," said Alan Balutis, director of North American public sector consulting for the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group and a MeriTalk contributor. "They're looking for very authentic communication. This is a generation that's been bombarded by marketers since a very young age, and it's a particularly tough audience."

The survey compared Generation Y's responses to responses from members of the Baby Boom generation, those people born between 1946 and the early '60s.

Asked how they expect the next president to communicate with them, Generation Y respondents and baby boomers, the majority of both groups said they expect television and live speeches. But while 21 percent of baby boomers said they expect the next president to communicate by the Internet, 46 percent of Generation Y said they expected it.

Less than 10 percent of baby boomers said they expected the next president to communicate using YouTube, blogs, social-networking sites or podcasts. But more than 20 percent of Generation Y respondents said they expect the next president to use YouTube and blogs, and more than 15 percent expect social-networking sites and podcasts.

"They want to engage in a very different way," said Balutis, former chief information officer for the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The survey also found that while 48 percent of the Generation Y respondents identified themselves as Democrats, 71 percent said they believe a Democratic candidate is best suited to be the next president. Seventy-three percent of the Generation Y respondents said they planned to vote in November's elections.

However, only 15 percent of the young adults said they feel a personal connection to their government, and 75 percent said they would vote for a candidate across party lines. “While Ys appear to be leaning heavily Democratic, their votes and long-term loyalty are in play if the candidates can make them feel part of government,” Balutis said. “The election isn’t the finish line for Generation Y, it’s the starting block.”

The goal of MeriTalk is to make government and government technology more accessible to U.S. residents, O'Keeffe said. Site visitors will be able to get opinions directly from government leaders and ask questions of those leaders, he said.

Visitors to the site will rate contributions, and the most popular contributions will be pushed to the front of the site.

Among the participants on MeriTalk are IT leaders or former IT leaders at the U.S. General Services Administration, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, and the White House Office of Management and Budget. Executives from General Dynamics, Microsoft, Cisco and other companies will also contribute.

The site was developed as a partnership among the Federal Managers Association; National Treasury Employees Union; United Service Organizations; and WTOP/WFED radio.

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