It is an option worth reconsidering thoroughly because social media can bite, hard. Probably much harder than mainstream media because of its immediacy, directness, transparency, durability, and capability to reach a fairly large, critical audience. Moreover, social media demands a level of personal engagement that offers a set of unique difficulties as well as opportunities that candidates may find hard to harness positively.
The fact is, these are the very same qualities that make social media tick and without these qualities, the effect of using social media for an electoral campaign may not only be marginal but may also compete with other media being used in the electoral campaign.
After considering all of this once over and then again, if you’re still convinced that you need this, there are a number of ways to go about preparing to engage in social media.
One of the most precious key elements in every campaign is time. No one gets more or less hours in a day and everybody has to work with just 24. If you are talking about an electoral campaign period, those 24 hours will never be enough to get everything done all at once and it should, if you want to win.
Communication is the core of every political campaign just as certainly handshakes and speeches are. Candidates must harness and use as many channels of communication in order to drive the message of his candidacy across. Going with the thinking that one medium is more important than the other just has the effect of not having all cylinders firing in perfect order. Each medium must be able to achieve optimal results for the candidate, otherwise you might end up actually spending more by spending on something you might not be using well. Much worse, you might actually be spending on a medium that can throw the other mediums out of whack and there are a number of ways in which this could happen.
Unlike print and broadcast media, social media needs time to be developed to a point where it can be an effective medium for engagement — not just communication.
Mainstream media already has its audiences built up and if you lash a social media campaign into your communication mix at the eleventh hour just before launching your candidacy, it won’t deliver the results that you hope it will. This is because it either might not have the audience you need for your campaign (a community of supporters) or you might not have an audience at all.
This is why it is said that one of the biggest mistakes one can make is to hold off on starting a social media campaign until just a few days or weeks before launching a electoral campaign. The assumptions are, basically, that no one will be interested in engaging any of the social media accounts of the candidate until they launch their candidacy. There is logic to this reasoning, but sadly, experience disproves logic in a number of instances where candidates are forced to use social media as a second fiddle.
If you are contemplating on using social media as part of your communication mix, it should be made an integral part of your communication strategy.
Granting that you decide that social media is part of your communication strategy, these are the things that you must do way before the launch of your campaign:
Get Social Media Training.
Perhaps one of the most attractive qualities about social media, any social media, is the promise of immediacy and directness.
When used effectively social media should evoke the feel of being immediately and directly connected to another person. Emphasis has to be given to the word person because there are social media experts who sell the idea that people should act like brands and nothing can be MORE unauthentic than people who interact with other people as BRANDS. The flip-side on this kind of fakery are actual brands made to interact with people like people — sure it’s kinda fun the first time around, but it gets pretty old when your friends start thinking you have a relationship with a bar of soap or a cellphone service.
Social media training will enable you to engage people immediately and directly. It is only when the actual candidate is known to be using a social media account (whether its Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or what have you) that it gains a following.
You can’t have someone else to run a social media account for you and expect them to do an exceptional job. This is chiefly because you are the best subject matter expert when it comes to the subject of you, no one can claim to know you so well that they can speak for you at all times and be able to offer a level of meaningful, positive engagement that will strengthen your following.
If it is started early enough, it becomes easier to mold a social media account into a valuable contact point with the rest of the world — without the time limits and high costs associated with mainstream media. Moreover, this allows you time to build up not just a following but a community committed to your message.
The key thing here is to learn as early as possible about all the social media tools and social media management tools that are available, master using one or two, cultivate a following, and build the rest of your social media campaign on this strength.
Candidates with a very strong following on social media may not actually need to resort to the unethical practice of paying people to blog favorably about them.
With social media, all a candidate for an election needs to use is just one or two and they should be able to update their social media accounts on the fly.
I used to subscribe to the thinking that a social media campaign is built like a hub-and-spoke-system, where the blog or website is the hub and social media accounts are the spokes that draw people into engagement at the hub. Asking a candidate to use all forms of social media is virtually impossible. Moreover, improvements in various social media has more or less off-set the apparent disadvantage of one type of social media versus another type of social media. Also, you have to consider that Twitter, Facebook, various blog platforms can be linked together in such a way that updating one will automatically update the rest.
(Up next… Developing A Social Media Team)