Nothing says “vote for me” more than a trustworthy image. And while we all hope that it is more than just an image, politicians who appear to be trustworthy almost always have an edge in the polls. In order to build this relationship with voters, politicians must engage with them in an open, transparent and two-way dialog. And what better tool than social media? Here are five tips for politicians using social media that will make this new communication tool invaluable to any campaign.
As the politician, you should be the one using social media
While aides and PR people are great for managing many dimensions of your communications, they shouldn’t be managing the bulk of your social media presence. The reason? Social media inherently blurs the line between public and private, and exists at the fulcrum of what you want the public to see and what they will see. This might sound disconcerting to a politician who’s used to having iron-fisted control over her image, but letting go of some of the carefully scripted dialog and picture-perfect hair might just make you more real, and more vote-able, to the public.
A prime example of a politician using social media himself is Goodyear Jonathan, President of Nigeria. Johnson’s Facebook page is updated daily, by the man himself, and includes his personal thoughts on the state of the government.
Be authentic, but don’t air out all of your dirty laundry
Again, because of that grey area between public and private that social media inhabits, it can be difficult to navigate what’s “right” to post and what should remain offline. There is no easy answer, as each situation calls for a different response. But a good rule of thumb is to be yourself – insert your opinions, your personality, and some tidbits from your daily life that voters might want to know – without going overboard. Generally, avoiding overly negative comments, even those that you think might help to smear your opponents, is best on social media. You just can never tell how your followers will react.
Take a heated Twitter battle between a former Indian MP, Shashi Tharoor and the commissioner of the Indian cricket league. The remarks that Tharoor made on Twitter and the negative exchange that he had with the commissioner led to his forced resignation.
Make time for social media
Using social media as part of your campaign strategy is almost required in today’s media-saturated climate, but that doesn’t mean that it should be slotted in between your 11AM appearance on the local news and your 1PM budget meeting. Social media is an on-going commitment. It is almost better not to create a campaign blog and Twitter account if they only see a flurry activity in their first week and then go dark for the following three.
While the 2010 UK election received lots of coverage in terms of how social media was used by the candidates, what’s not covered as often is how the current Prime Minister David Cameron continues to rely on social media as a major communication tool. Number10.gov.uk is an active web portal that includes live streaming of some of the PM’s appearances ad links to the equally active government Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Listen, engage, participate
It cannot be said more: social media is a two-way communication tool. It is not broadcast TV, where you can carefully craft your message, put it out there, and measure success at the polls. It is social. Therefore, you have to treat it like an on-going conversation that you’re having with your followers. Read comments, respond, take what your supporters (and your dissidents) are saying on your Facebook page into account the next time you make a decision.
A recent study of the importance of social media to youth in particular highlights the need for politicians to be active participants. Trends show that youth in the UK are more likely to engage with politics on social media than elsewhere, and politicians should take note if they want to appeal to younger voters.
Be creative, be daring
While exploring Facebook and Twitter, you’ll likely come across even newer technology like geo-location-based services. The politicians who take a risk and experiment with these new technologies are usually those that voters remember when they head to the polls. Remember how heavily Obama used YouTube to reach out to Americans? Trying new technologies is risky, but if you have the budget and the staff, you’ll be remembered as someone who is willing to look to non-traditional methods of problem-solving.
The location-based web service Gowalla is starting a new political initiative that rewards participation at rallies, town halls and other political events. And the politicians who have signed up for this first-of-its-kind campaign tool will only be admired by their supporters as people who can adapt and grow as technology does.