Social media has changed everything. First, it changed the way we connected with friends and family, then it gave us a way to expand our personal network to those we would never before have been able to reach. Next, it turned to marketing and business world on its head. And now it’s changing the way governments operate and the process by which we put our leaders in place through elections.
Any politician who ignores or downplays the power of social media in their campaigns going forward (and arguably, for the past decade) does so at their own peril. Constituencies now reside on social platforms, and they will all the more so in coming years. Over 60% of the Australian population currently has a Facebook account, and over half get their news regularly from social media according to statistics.
But just as the business world had to adjust to and learn about how to utilise social media, so now do politicians. And just as with industry, merely starting a Facebook or Twitter account doesn’t accomplish the mission.
So here we’ll take a look at the different platforms, some of their differences, and how politicians might make the most of them, as well as some general rules of thumb that should probably be followed.
Facebook might be comparable to television and radio advertising back in the 1990s. It’s by far the largest and most powerful platform for getting the word out online, but it’s also being abandoned by the younger generation and will likely hold much less power as they move into adulthood. It’s also unlikely to go away anytime soon, making it an absolute necessity for politicians today.
The magic of Facebook from a marketing standpoint is its treasure trove of big data. It has been said more than a few times that Facebook likely knows more about you than your parents do, and possibly better than you know yourself. Every like, share, and comment is collected and analysed algorithmically to understand who you are, what you like and dislike, and even what your probable next actions might be. This is the kind of information that politicians could never hope to gather with calls and door to door visits.
Suffice it to say that an active Facebook presence should be the fifth most important thing to a politician today, behind air, food, water, and clothing. Finding the right schedule for posting may be a bit more guesswork, but for starters (until your analytics help you refine it) a proper frequency would be several times per week.
A close second place to Facebook in terms of importance to a campaign is Twitter. While Facebook gives you direct access to the general public, Twitter will gear your message more towards the media, the technologically savvy, and the biggest influencers in the social media world. It can also draw the most ire, so being cautious in your messaging can be more important in the Twittersphere than on Facebook. And again, the younger generation doesn’t embrace it as they do newer platforms.
The examples of good and bad Twitter use in politics are easy to find, particularly when studying the past decade of election cycles in the US. As to the merits or horrors of those specific examples, I’ll leave that to your particular style and the reactions you garner from your audience. For frequency, several times per day is entirely acceptable while once per week is considered almost invisible.
Instagram has quickly moved into a prominent third place of social importance, being the most popular image-based network currently. This is where your generational audience will begin to cross paths more often, and even swing toward the younger crowd. Definitely, all politicians should have an active account. In combination with Facebook and Twitter, you’ll have the vast majority of the social crowd covered. Instagram posts can come as often as you like but, just like Twitter, don’t disappear for long stretches.
After the Big Three, Snapchat is probably the next most important network from a political perspective. The reason being, it’s the hot thing with the younger crowd. If you want to reach Millennials, you’re much more likely to do so on Snapchat than either Twitter or Facebook. If you’re the age of most politicians, you may find yourself wondering why it’s so popular. The simple answer is because it is. Don’t question it, just accept it and take part. Because of the extremely short life of snaps, don’t be afraid to post to your heart’s desire.
These are listed together for a simple and powerful reason – they’re both owned by Google. What that means to you is that you should have an active presence on one or both (which is a better idea). Obviously, YouTube is the best place to post video content, especially if it’s longer than a few seconds, but it’s also the second largest search engine in the world (behind Google itself). That means that your overall online presence is helped by having your YouTube channel indexed by Google’s search engine.
Google+ is a non-starter for many as far as a social network, but as long as it’s still around it has the same effect as YouTube – increasing your online visibility through search indexing. For that reason alone, you should have a G+ account that is actively used. Frequency on G+ or YouTube is necessary, as it used to boost Google search rankings.
Finally, we come to LinkedIn. LI is a necessity in the business world, even though in reality many people use it more as a jobs board than a business networking site. In politics, it could be seen by some as a take-it-or-leave-it platform, but when that’s the case, I say always take it. The more exposure you can get the better. You won’t need to be as active there, but it can be a perfect place to post long-form articles explaining your positions once per week or so.
– Although, no official guidelines are governing what politicians can and can’t post on social media in Australia, making yourself that open and accessible when taking a position on policies can be fraught with potential disasters. As any politician is painfully aware, there are always those who will attack you and attempt to destroy you, and social media gives them as much of an opportunity to do so, as it gives you the chance to connect with your constituency. Avoid falling into the cynical and inflammatory traps that will surely be laid for you.
– Despite a lack of regulations for use, social media posts are still applicable to defamation laws. On the other hand, the three-day media blackout on political advertising before an election doesn’t apply to social posts.
– In the business world, likes and shares on social media don’t necessarily translate into conversions, which are the gauge of success. In politics, this isn’t the case. Likes and shares are the most obvious measure of popularity, the political gauge of achievement.
– In general, two types of posts from politicians are the most well-received: policy focused and issue-based posts, and personal posts. The policy/issue posts give a broad audience a very clear picture of your positions and get real engagement. The individual posts are best illustrated by politicians such as Malcolm Turnbull and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, who regularly post family pictures and references to their wives. These are among their most popular posts.
– Avoid the muck. It’s easy to get sucked into inflammatory debates online or to post negative sentiments that come to mind. Research shows that 84% of social media users say things about politics online that they would never say in person. Restraint and thoughtfulness are your allies.
– In an age where everything is called “fake news”, and there are in fact many who propagate false or misleading information, it’s all the more important to be sure that what you post is clear and verified. Passing along links that seem correct without verification has already landed some politicians in hot water around the globe. On the other hand, you have a global platform to set the record straight on a matter if the need arises.