In part 1 of this series, I took a long at political forums – a virtual minefield for political candidates. In part 2, we’ll focus on social media networks like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter – much friendlier confines for campaigns, but no less important to do right.
When working with my political clients, I almost always get the same reaction when I mention Facebook – “Oh yeah, I think my kids are on that.” It’s probably true, but it also tends to skew my clients’ perspective of both the importance and relevance of the platform.
Social networks have gone from a place for “kids” to chat with friends to a full-blow social revolution. In other words, it’s not just for your kids anymore. In fact, in the right hands, these websites can be one of the most effective grassroots platforms in your campaign. Just as effective, if not more so, than walking neighborhoods, having meet and greets and block parties. And better yet, they are much more efficient – requiring less leg work and time with the potential to reach many more voters.
Social networks are not about technology. Get that out of your mind right now. They’re about social interaction. The key word here is “social.” This brings me to my first and probably most important tip:
1. Don’t pitch your friends list.
When you truly understand that these websites are for social interaction, you will understand why the “campaign pitch” would be a serious faux paus. Take this example – you’re at the neighborhood park on a Sunday afternoon with your family. There are lots of people there, some you know well, some you sort of know and others who you don’t know. Of those people, who do you go up to and give a stump speech? Hopefully the answer is none of the above. Why don’t you do that? Because it’s not considered appropriate in that kind of social atmosphere. It’s a turn off. Nobody wants to get cornered by a hyped up politician in their neighborhood park on a Sunday afternoon. Well, the same holds true for Facebook users. Yes, they know you’re running for office – that’s part of the reason they’re on your friend’s list. But because they’re on your friends list, they don’t expect or want to be given the campaign pitch 15 times a day. They do expect to hear news, events and announcements – but in a conversational manner, because they are your “friends” (i.e. – supporters).
2. Encourage questions and debate on with your friends list.
Social media is, after all, about social interaction. The key word here, being interaction. Remember, social media is a dialogue, not a monologue. Take the time to engage your supporters – don’t just limit your status updates to events and news. Ask questions about the issues, relevant news, your last television commercial. Ask for ideas – how can you better reach the undecided? What are your friends hearing on the street, in their workplace and amongst their “real” friends? No, you can’t control this conversation (or shouldn’t, at least), but you’ll be shocked my how much of it is positive (usually 90% or so) and even more shocked by helpful this interaction can be.
3. Completely fill out your profile.
Think of this as an online resume for the voters. Trust me, people will look at your profile when you’re running for office. They want to know where your from, where you went to school and just as importantly – your hobbies, interests and family life. These are pictures of candidates we rarely get to see and the voters want to know. Don’t give them a reason to question your sincerity by leaving out key parts of your profile – fill it out COMPLETELY.
4. Post pictures and videos as often as possible
In most campaigns, the candidate always has a couple of the same people around him at all times. Make sure they have a small digital still camera, and if possible a video camera (the FLIP camera is perfect for this – and cheap). After every event, make sure to constantly post pictures and any videos you may have. These are often candid and sincere photographs that voters rarely get to see – you’ll become much more human, and a lot less of a political robot.
5. Utilize groups
There are millions of groups on Facebook and MySpace based around shared interests, hobbies and politics. These groups are joined by people who want to know more about you. If there’s a local latino group on Facebook in your district – join it. Listen to their issues and their conversations. Become a part of the group, in a social way. Let them know, once you’ve become a real part of their group, what you can do for them. And then listen again. The same goes for every group on Facebook and Myspace – seek out those that are relevant in your campaign and engage!
6. Set up “Citizens For Mr. Candidate” Groups
There are thousands of interest groups in every district. Make sure you’re reaching out to as many of them as is effective for your campaign. Have a “Truckers For Mr. Candidate” fan page, a “Republican Women for Mr. Candidate” page, and so on. These pages allow members of those interest groups to discuss your candidacy as it pertains to the issues that matter most to them (and therefore, should matter to you).
7. Integrate, Embed
If you have a blog, use RSS to feed your blog posts into all of your social media networks. Make sure your YouTube page is embedded as well. Ensure Twitter posts are updates on other sites too. Use these tools and widgets to help your campaign more efficiently update your social media networks in as few places as possible.
8. Don’t forget to post external information
All too often, candidate Facebook pages are filled with internal communications. Don’t forget that newspapers and magazines and broadcast news are communicating as well. Post those stories and videos – particularly those that point to more outside individuals and groups getting behind your candidacy.
9. All social networks are not the same
It’s easy to assume that Facebook and MySpace are the same. They’re not. The social “norms” in one my be huge social mistakes in another. Take the time to examine the social tendencies of the different social networks. For instance, it’s considered a norm in MySpace to be approached by someone you have never heard of. On Facebook, it’s considered somewhat awkward to do so – as Facebook users tend to join with those they know in one way or another.
10. Twitter matters
It’s completely foreign to a number of my clients – but 140 characters is all it takes to communicate and communicate successfully to very large audiences. As mentioned in #9, there are different social interactions on different social networks. On Twitter, it’s completely acceptable (actually, desired) to be joined by people you have never met and have no connection to. For this reason, Twitter follower numbers tend to be significantly higher than those on Facebook, for instance. This gives you a much better chance at a much larger audience. Utilize it. Tweet your updates, news and events. But don’t get too political – in fact, don’t hesitate to post personal happenings like, “at the park with the dog…he won’t pee,” or “kids homework is harder than I remembered…” These kinds of insights are tailor made for twitter and help engage you in a social way, relieving the “political” tensions in the air. If you’re not familiar with the “language” of Twitter (and there is a very specific language to get your thoughts into 140 characters), ask your kids – they know it better than their primary language.
11. Forget the message
There’s no doubt that all of us in the political world have spent some time worrying about losing control of the message due to social media. Why worry though? You can’t do anything about it, one way or the other. Furthermore, studies are showing us, consistently, that canned campaign messages are losing (if not completely lost) their impact on voters. The message is seen with skepticism. Dialogue is the new message – social media allows campaigns unprecedented ways to engage and inspire.
12. Make social media a high-level strategic component
Too often, even those campaigns that utilize social media do it on a very low level. Television, direct mail, debates and events get the high-level treatment. Don’t make that mistake. Include social media at the HIGHEST levels of your communication strategy. By putting people, at the highest level, on social media strategy, you can find a real edge in your campaign. Integration of communications with all other forms in your campaign will be more finely tuned and more effective. Don’t relegate social media to an intern or your kids – this is your reputation and your career on the line in an election – leave it to the pros, the same way you do your traditional advertising.
|About The Author:
Robert J. Munson is a marketing and public relations strategist based in Baton Rouge, LA. His firm, RobertJMunson, specializes in modern marketing strategies including social media marketing, content marketing and corporate social strategy. Follow Robert J Munson on Twitter.