How Political Social Media Director Neenz Faleafine Used Facebook To Win Votes

I recently caught up with Neenz Faleafine, who has worked on a variety of political campaigns as a social media director and consultant. There’s so much talk about what social media can do for brands, but it’s just as effective in the political arena. Reputation management is even more critical there, so these lessons will definitely extrapolate to your business social marketing.

I recently caught up with Neenz Faleafine, who has worked on a variety of political campaigns as a social media director and consultant. There’s so much talk about what social media can do for brands, but it’s just as effective in the political arena. Reputation management is even more critical there, so these lessons will definitely extrapolate to your business social marketing.

Dennis Yu: It’s good to talk to you again, Neenz. I interviewed Ekaterina Walter, who wrote the book Think Like Zuck, and I interviewed a bunch of other folks who work with big brands. But I want to talk about another industry now — politics — and you’re exactly the right person for that conversation.

Neenz Faleafine: My clients – not on purpose or by accident — are primarily leaders and politicians in Hawaii. I’ve always been drawn to politicians. It’s everything they have to endure, all of the criticism they face, while they’re expected to keep smiling and pretend everything’s OK. I love humanizing them. By the luck of life, I’ve been part of the company teams for Hawaii’s governor, Honolulu’s current mayor, and Hawaii’s new U.S. senators in Washington, D.C. But, every election year, I promise myself I’ll retire and just enjoy the local food and wine festival.

Yu: I’ve always thought you dealt with some of the most stressful areas — politics, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency), scandals. What’s more, you’re just one person. How do you manage these large communities?

Faleafine: I came to the social media party late. Back in the middle of 2005, I wanted to view a photo of an event I attended, but signing up meant exposing myself, it meant being vulnerable. Immediately, I knew I had to become very secure with who I was, because socializing on social media isn’t quite the same as socializing in real-life. There’s a record of everything you do and say; it’s hard to go back once you’ve made a mistake.

In 2010 I joined my first social media team to support a long-time Kama’aina governor candidate. That’s when I began to appreciate just how much courage it takes to be a social media director. You’re representing a client in politics — a very precarious arena — on Facebook and Twitter, which are personal online spaces, and they can easily turn ugly. My candidate was running against a well-liked, native Hawaiian, two-term incumbent governor, and he was running against the Honolulu mayor, who was Samoan. I had to make sure I was prepared for any resistance from the Hawaiian community, the Samoan community, or the Polynesians, who basically vote on guidelines.

Yu: So, did social media help your clients? How did you do it? How did you evaluate success?

Faleafine: That’s the question in social media, isn’t it? How do we measure goodwill? How do we assign a monetary value to a smiley face, an emoticon, or a hashtag? It’s a good question, but in the end, we can only really measure the result. Although the race was in 2010, our candidate told his core strategy team he was interested in running a full three years earlier, and his team was pretty uncomfortable with that ambition. He was a 20-year congressman at the time, and he really didn’t need to run for governor, because he was basically guaranteed re-election as a congressman every year he ran. Why ruin a good thing?

But a couple people on his strategy team believed in the power of social media. They reasoned that they could leverage these publicity tools to show the people of Hawaii that this congressman wasn’t just a legislator — he was also a person, just like them. One of the first ideas we came up with was called Dinner 2.0.