[tweetmeme source=”@paullaucm” only_single=false]From Mashable :
Just as social media has opened a dialogue between businesses and consumers, its value is apparent to those in political office, whose work and very professional survival hinges on the needs and perceptions of their constituents.
But when was the last time a local politician garnered the same social media buzz as a hip startup, or a savvy online retailer?
As it stands, the social web is ripe with opportunities for candidates and office holders alike to connect with voters, foster transparency, and even spar with opponents in the same ways they have been in the traditional media for hundreds of years. We spoke with some innovators who have been tapping into the political power of social media. If their work is any indication, expect the future of elected government to be measured in fans and followers, as well as votes.
Transparency and Credibility
Spin and misinterpretation can cloud a political message as it passes from candidate, to spokesperson, to media, to public. But this chain can be broken by something as simple as a Facebook update.
“I first began posting every vote from the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives in June 2009 — six months after taking office,” said Republican State Rep. Justin Amash in an e-mail interview. “It was really a spontaneous undertaking. I figured, why not post my votes, too, with some explanations? … I instantly received comments from dozens of people who wanted me to know how much they appreciated what I was doing. It became clear to me that posting my votes in real-time on Facebook could revolutionize the process of legislating.”
Rep. Amash is among the first legislators to post all of his votes on his Facebook Fan Page. He has received significant media attention for his open social policies, and has since announced his candidacy for U.S. Congress on Facebook.
“I wasn’t considering a run for Congress or any other seat when I began posting my votes, but Facebook has turned into a fantastic campaigning tool,” said Amash. “Above all, it has helped me to gain credibility with voters. When I say that I’m a principled, consistent conservative, people know that it’s true. They can see it, and they can tell from our discussions that I’m actually reading the bills.”
Rep. Amash’s Facebook strategy seems to have bypassed some of the partisan choir preaching and flame warring that is rampant in the political blogosphere. “Because I’m willing to explain myself and account for my actions, I’ve gained Facebook fans from across the political spectrum. Some of my best interactions are with people who disagree with my votes. I’m trying to foster the kind of civil, rational discourse that has been missing from politics for a long time.”
One important element of Amash’s Facebook success is that he (and he alone, as he tells us) is the one posting, commenting, and replying. “In fact, as of now, no one else — not even my legislative staff or campaign staff — has access to it. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s important that I hear directly from constituents and that they hear directly from me.”
Even a cursory scan of Amash’s Facebook Page reveals that this type of direct contact has engendered productive conversations, even about political minutiae and hyper-local issues — topics that can be glossed over as they filter through traditional media outlets.
Highly Targeted and Inexpensive Ads
As businesses have known for some time, the social web can be a cost-effective medium for targeted advertising. Whereas expensive television and print ads might blanket a wide swath of voters with uncertain viewership and impact, social media engagement costs pennies on the dollar, and can deliver highly targeted and measurable results if executed properly.
In 2008, Julielyn Gibbons, President of i3 Strategies, an online strategy consulting firm, and Senior Fellow at the New Organizing Institute in Washington, DC, helped an “unorganized, under-funded” group, defeat deep-pocketed opposition by relying on social media marketing to get messaging to constituents.
As part of a campaign to pass a ballot initiative in Michigan that year, Gibbons and her team established Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube presences, and invested heavily in Google and Facebook ads “that mirrored our traditional media advertising, with a twist. We focused heavily on micro-targeting by age and gender, going for the the ‘goosebump factor’ as I call it — giving the public something that was very personal that they could relate to and that would win over the scare tactics that the opposition was running.”
Gibbons notes the importance of a “cyclical message strategy” when digging into the nitty gritty of social media advertising. “Every outlet linked to or mentioned the other outlets. For instance, at the end of every YouTube video, we included the URL of the campaign website, the Facebook Page, the Twitter page. Tweets linked to YouTube videos, important updates on the Facebook Page, links to fundraising pages on the site, etc.”
The proposal ultimately passed by a very slim margin. “Afterward, pundits credited our heavy use of social media with organizing, mobilizing, fundraising and ultimately turning out voters in support of the measure,” said Gibbons.
Let the People Be Your Voice
While you can pay to market politics online, it’s arguably better to engage your network of supporters and let them spread the message for you. Their reach and trust value far outweigh anything you could broadcast or pay for.
Once you have their attention, little calls to action can go a long way.
“Some of the tactics that we used included asking supporters to change their Facebook profile picture and Twitter avatar to the campaign logo days before the election, posting and sharing campaign ads and messages on YouTube, encouraging supporters to share on their Facebook walls, [and] creating and spreading a hashtag when folks tweeted about the campaign,” said Gibbons.
And don’t discount e-mail marketing — it makes for great follow-up after some preliminary, non-invasive social engagement.
“When we sent an e-mail, we always gave supporters a quick list of actions that they could take, and we always let them know that they were a vital part of the campaign. For instance: ‘We’ve got a new ad on TV, have you seen it?’ Can you help us raise [additional funds] to keep it on air for another three days?’”
Again, Gibbons notes the importance of cyclical messaging. Every e-mail sent should offer proactive ways for supporters to connect back to the campaign’s social media sites.
Improving Public Service
“Ivory Tower Syndrome” is a problem in every sphere — including politics — where influence and money can divide those in office from the people they serve. Social media can democratize information and reconnect politicians to the vox populi.
“Our goal by using social media is to have an active conversation with our constituents,” said Nicole Russo, Legislative Aide to New York State Senator Kemp Hannon. “Sometimes we have to ask the hard questions and get real, truthful, and sometimes harsh answers. The more we know about what our constituents are thinking, the better we can serve them.”
While Senator Hannon is not actively campaigning at this time, Russo notes that Facebook is the ideal medium for this type of communication and discovery, and that the senator’s Facebook page has become “almost a personal news outlet for both Senator Hannon, the community and the state. Whether a constituent is wondering what Hannon’s latest legislation is or what are the key issues of concern of the 6th Senatorial District of New York, constituents can read about it and freely give their opinion on his Facebook.”
Calculated Political Strategies
While many political campaigns are fumbling to leverage social channels effectively, consulting firms have seized the opportunities that exist in these knowledge gaps, and have applied many business concepts to the model.
“Political campaigns aren’t much different than traditional marketing campaigns, with a few exceptions,” said Gibbons. “Whether you’re selling a product, an idea, or a candidate, you’re ultimately trying to convince the public to embrace something.”
To that end, political consultants leverage some aggressive strategies to keep a client’s social media presence at the top of mind.
“We always invest in getting a few of the opponents’ supporters to fan our page,” said Josh Koster, Managing Partner of Chong + Koster, a digital consulting firm that works on political campaigns. “Why not 100% supporters? Because by leaving just a few haters on the page (and thus ensuring massive back-and-forths in the comments threads) we ensure higher marks from Facebook’s Edge Rank algorithm.” He also notes the importance of keeping 99% of the Page’s discourse on your side to dominate the conversation, which may convince casual visitors of your point of view.
Koster also touts the value of e-mail marketing — something that is amplified by social media trust building.
“In an ideal world, we use social media to push out a steady drum-beat of ‘warm fuzzy’ content and use e-mail to drive the hard asks. The more value we build on social media, the more hard asks we get to make via e-mail,” he explained. “The trick is getting the social media universe and the e-mail universe to overlap.”
The Bottom Line
When it comes to politics, is social media a marketing tool? A conversation with constituents? An ear to the ground of civic responsibility? The versatility of these platforms means it can be any or all of these things, depending on the needs of a campaign or office.
Regardless of use, the importance of authenticity seems to be universal.
“You want the social media [component] to be a very natural, authentic extension of the campaign and candidate or issue,” said Gibbons. “If it’s forced, or faked, the public will know it and you’ll look worse than not trying it all.”
The importance of utilizing social channels can’t be understated. If you want to compete in today’s online political world, dedicate resources appropriately, and stick with it. “Do not leave your social media networking up to an intern,” said Russo. “Many organizations make a page and then forget to update or allow someone that is unqualified to update it for them. You really need someone who knows when and what to post in order to capture an audience that will benefit your organization.”
And while social mediums may come and go, the message (and how it’s disseminated) remains the most critical part of any campaign.
“The best way to garner votes and support is by maintaining transparency and communication with voters,” said Rep. Amash. “Most elected officials haven’t figured that out yet.”