Social Media

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Updated in 2014 by Marko Gregović, a social media expert who has worked on European and Croatian campaigns.

Social media – what it is and isn’t

social media

Social media is a term used to describe a number of (relatively) recent forms of online interaction, many of which can be very useful for running campaigns if used correctly. Using the different forms available, you can use social media to spread awareness about your campaign, provide an easy way for supporters to get in contact/follow the campaign, interact with supporters, coordinate events, raise money and subvert the need to use traditional media to reach voters.

Social media however is not three things. Firstly, it is not a free and easy form of campaigning. Many forms of social media are becoming increasingly crowded (such as twitter and Facebook) and therefore require extra time and energy to ensure that you get your message across from the din of a crowded online media.

Secondly, social media should be seen as one part of campaign’s overall on-line presence. The other essential parts are web and e-mail which, together with social media, create a much bigger impact on the prospective voters.

Lastly, social media should not be considered as a substitute for more traditional forms of campaigning. This is especially true during election time, when voters may want a more personal form of contact than just ‘following you’ on Twitter.

Because of these limits and downsides, it is important for your campaign to decide in advance its strategy for online media in general and social media in particular. Making it up as you go along is not really an option!

What are the different tools?

Facebook

Facebook is the largest and best known social media site. It offers the opportunity to set up personal profiles, groups or pages.

Personal profiles are the most common – establishing an account for your personal use where you add friends, upload pictures. Groups were formerly used by organisations and campaigns, but recently pages have become more popular as they are more flexible and interactive than groups.

Pages need only someone to click ‘like’ in order start following that page. This is considered more informal than having someone ‘join’ a group, and so ensures that your campaign reaches as many people as possible. Pages should be the standard way of reaching your audience, unless you are trying to organize small, local or affinity groups of up to a few hundred people.

Facebook pages have downsides. By far the biggest one is that it is controlled by a corporation interested in profit. You will soon notice that only 10-20% of your ‘fans’ actually get to see your posts, no matter how great they are. That is because Facebook is trying to push you into paying for their promotion which brings us to the next topic:

Facebook and promotion: Facebook gives you the option to advertise your page on its site or pay for the promotion of specific posts. While it’s always preferable to try and get your number of ‘likes’ up without having to pay for it, Facebook offers a convenient means of advertising should you choose to go down that path.

Under Facebook, you can target ads for your page at certain groups of users (i.e. young people, people with an interest in environmental issues). You don’t pay unless a user clicks on your page, and you can set a maximum daily amount (from a minimum of €1 upwards) which will ensure you stay within budget.

Free is always better, but advertising could allow you to quickly increase numbers, which will help you spread your message. The prices of Facebook promotion vary wildly across Europe, but with 10€ your post can reach anywhere between 10,000 and 50,000 people and ‘buy’ anywhere between 20 and 400 ‘likes’. Worth the investment, but only if you have the money and if you use that investment wisely!

Facebook and events: A great way to be active on Facebook is to organise “events”. You can create events for a campaign rally or even Election Day (Vote Green on Feb 25th, for example). You can invite your supports, and encourage them to invite friends (or, as above, advertise it). This will result in the event appearing in people’s news feeds as the event approaches, and is a great way to translate online interaction into actual, on-the-ground action.

Facebook is becoming especially crowded with events, so it’s important not to overdo it (i.e. don’t make every campaign meeting an event). Try and limit it to major events, and try and give the event a catchy name and interesting description.

Twitter

Twitter has been described as a micro-blogging site where you posts 140 character tweets to ‘followers’. These tweets can contain links to websites, press releases, event info or just a simple message. Anyone with a twitter account can follow you, and anyone can retweet your tweet (forward it on to their followers). Twitter is often seen as a bridge between private and public and the most popular profiles are usually not official party accounts but those of prominent party officials. People on Twitter are usually looking for behind the scenes, semi-official information, witty commentary and personal views.

In increasingly crowded Facebook universe, some people (especially journalists) find Twitter more useful way of gathering information. However in order to establish yourself as a credible and reliable source of information worth following you have to invest heavily into interaction with ‘influencers’ – people with many followers and strong voice in the community. Mentioning (@) when something is relevant to specific users, engaging influencers in conversations and providing opinions on ‘hot topics’ are the ways to build Twitter audience.

Although it is possible to use Twitter passively by only providing and tweeting links and official information, no social media can be truly passive to be effective – fans and followers are nowadays used to questions being answered and they do appreciate it. So if possible, do make an effort to respond to each tweet.

Other twitter tips: Twitter is like a community, and like any community, there are sometimes ‘hot topics’ under discussion. In twitter, these topics may appear with a hash tag at the beginning (i.e. #election2012). A tweet beginning with a hash tag becomes a link, and clicking on that link brings up all the posts containing that hash tag. So it’s a great way to join a conversation on twitter, or start one of your own (i.e. #reasonstovotegreen)

Other social networks:

While Facebook and Twitter are at the top of social media list, there are others worth mentioning. You should not waste your energy and trying to be active on more than a few social networks. However, if members of your party are already active on some odd social network, encourage them to share your party’s information, videos, and photos from the ‘main’ social networks. Of course, every social network has its own rules so it is often very difficult to simply ‘translate’ the messages.

LinkedIN is often seen as a professional network. However, it is one of the fastest growing ones and it offers some interesting tools that other networks lack. For example, discussion groups on LinkedIN are much more developed and extensive than on any other social network.

Google+ Google’s ‘Facebook killer’ hasn’t managed to live up to its expectations. However, with Google ecosystem becoming increasingly tightly integrated – Youtube, G-mail, Drive and other commonly used tools are being pushed towards Google+. Moreover, Google+ unique feature is Hangouts – an easy way to stream live video and share it with large audience.

Snapchat, Vine, Pinterest, tumblr, Flickr, Instagram and others are very popular with some potential voters. They can be useful and interesting, but their audience is much more limited than the one of the previously mentioned social networks.Using social media to develop engagement

Social media works best if you try and make your followers have a sense of involvement in the campaign. A great way to do this is to use social media to keep supporters involved in how your campaign is doing on a daily basis. Writing a blog entry, or getting a campaign volunteer to help you keep a video diary, can result in some really great content that you can tweet or post on Facebook.

Social media – how to win friends and influence people

As discussed above, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly crowded, making it difficult to keep your message visible during campaigns. One simply solution on Facebook is to request your campaign team to ‘like’ every single posting that you make. By clicking ‘like’, your post gains popularity on people’s homepage and so is more likely to be seen. A free, simple means of keeping your campaign visible online!

With twitter, maintaining coverage is dependent on a degree of coordination. Twibbons, hashtags, retweeting are all essential tools in this. That is what it is important to appoint one person to be in charge of social media (see below).

Like any campaign tool, it helps to be able to quantify how successful your efforts are. A great site to help with this is bit.ly. Bit.ly allows you to shorten links to videos, websites etc, which is great for Twitter and Facebook. Importantly though, if you register for a free account with them you can keep track of how many people actually click on these links. You’ll be surprised (perhaps unpleasantly so) at how many people click on such links.

Social media – the need to plan your campaign

Social media may appear to be a cheap, informal, bottom-up means of communicating. However, that does not negate the need to ensure that the social media aspect of your campaign is well planned. That means two things – deciding on resources and drafting a communication plan for on-line presence and specifically for social media.

1)  Resources: Dedicating one member of your team to lead the social media efforts is a must. After that, it might be useful to pull together a team of volunteers who can ensure that you are active on social media on a continuous basis (especially if you are going to actively engage on twitter). Social media is usually a multimedia experience – it involves videos, images, infographics so to produce good and engaging content it is the best to approach it professionaly and to really try and find people with video and image-editing skills, as well as copyrighters and designers to help you lift your social media presence to the next level.

Financially, it’s up to you to decide how much to contribute. As discussed above, ads can be an effective way of getting followers, and without a decent base of followers than your efforts won’t have much impact where it matters – votes.

You may have people who wish to help with your campaign, but who dislike the more direct forms of campaigning such as canvassing or leafleting. If they have any computer skills then this may be a great way to get them involved in the campaign, thus expanding the number of people on your team. Its also a great way to involve your supporters who may be living oversees during the election.

2)  Communication strategy: before the main part of your election campaign kicks off, it’s important to have a well thought out communication plan. Posts, tweets, videos etc should all try and coincide with the overall communication strategy for the campaign. So if the overall campaign is divided into a different policy area per day, then your social media communication strategy should try and mirror that so as to reinforce your message. Social media is just a part of overall online communication. It is important that your social media presence supports your other online efforts. For example, if you are posting about one issues on Facebook, you should include the same issue in your newsletter as well as having some additional info on your web-page. It increases the likelihood that information will stick with the audience and that it turn increases the probability that people will vote for you.

Social media has an overall younger profile than the wider electorate (though it’s not exclusively limited to younger people!). You should take this into account when deciding which policies to prioritise on social media.

As the Dutch Greens said of their campaign during their regional elections in 2011, it was important that they did not approach social media in a ‘half hearted’ way but professionally.

Social media – the risks

Social media presents itself with risks as well as rewards. This is particular true of twitter, where its diffuse nature means that it is very hard to maintain any sort of control over the debate. While such a non-hierarchical structure is to be welcomed, it is important that this is factored in when planning for the campaign.

For example, if you start a hash tag such as #reasonstovotegreen, it’s possible for your opponents to join the conversation with sarcastic, fake reasons to vote Green. That has happened to Green campaigns before, so it is possible!

A recent risk for candidates is media checking their personal social media profiles (twitter or Facebook) and discovering inappropriate photos/comments. The most recent example is a Green candidate in Canada, who was forced to resign after the media found comments on his Facebook page which were offensive to rape victims.

A final risk, as discussed above, is overestimating the role that social media can play in campaigns. As Malcolm Gladwell discussed in his widely read article on the topic, social media is a very weak form of connection to a campaign or cause. After all, connecting to a campaign online only requires a few clicks of a mouse, and very little effort beyond that. But for your campaign to succeed, you will need people to make a greater commitment than just ‘liking’ you on Facebook. As Gladwell says “Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires” (Gladwell, M Small Change The New Yorker, Oct 4th 2010)

So you should only see social media as a tool to get to that high former of interaction with your campaign – to advertise events, and to share information that your supporters can use when talking to friends and family.

One idea from the Dutch Greens during their 2011 regional elections was to combine on online and a face-to-face event. They staged an event at the train station the day before the election, handing out coffee to voters who had questions. But they also took questions, and broadcast the whole event, online.

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