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Using Social Media for Political Campaigns

Using Social Media for Political Campaigns

All forms of advertising and marketing today, entail a solid digital strategy. Political campaigning is no different. This article attempts to explore ways in which the power of social media can be leveraged for effective political campaigns.
OpinionFront Staff
We live in exciting times where the Internet, especially social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have become game-changers in the political and social arena. Movements of political dissent and mass protests against administrations across the world, prevalent for many years, have finally been successful in recent times (even overthrowing oppressive dictatorial regimes) thanks to the power of social media tools. It would be foolish to ignore the amount of change that social media has brought about in public affairs on a global as well as local scale. In most democratic governments across the world, using social media for political campaigns such as presidential elections has therefore, become an integral part of campaign strategy.
The US presidential campaign, back in 2008, showcased Barack Obama as a tech-savvy and innovative candidate with a strong presence on social networking sites. Several political analysts credit the Democratic Party candidate's success to an impressive public relations strategy, that used social media tools to effectively influence and engage potential voters. Needless to say, President Obama became a fitting example of a successful election campaign, that employed social media platforms as its centerpiece.
Political campaigns and election campaigns have a lot in common with marketing. Essentially, political campaigns are either about posing a candidate for a public post, garnering support for a political agenda or getting public opinion on important matters concerning government policies. These are nothing but forms of publicizing or marketing.
Using Social Media for Election Campaigns
Social media marketing for political campaigns must be part of a cohesive campaign strategy that is consistent across all media channels including traditional media. A social media strategy must not be an afterthought, aimed at engaging only the tech-savvy voters. More specifically, with regard to digital electioneering on the social media platform, it is essential to focus on the following points to ensure a successful engagement with the public (including voters).
  • Showcase the Candidate: It will be worthwhile to introduce each candidate through their own blog. The candidate can use the blog to share personal snippets like family background, ideas, beliefs and reasons for subscribing to the party's views and agenda. Remember that, while the political party's memorandum may be available elsewhere on the site, the candidate's own reasons for supporting the party's beliefs can be an effective way to lend a personal touch and perhaps, instantly reach out to potential voters.
  • Highlight Contributions: Ensure to highlight not only the candidate's official achievements as a member of the party but also his/her participation in activities of a more social nature (volunteering for charities, videos of interactions with the people, podcast of speeches given, etc.). As online media is cost-effective, there's a tendency to go overboard with featuring accomplishments. Remember to keep bragging to a minimum and aim to project the candidate as a potential public servant.
  • Engage in Two-way Dialog: As with any campaign, failure is imminent, if there's no "live" interaction. The comments and other responses from the people must be responded to in minimum time, and negative comments, contrary views with undertones of protest, etc., must be responded to effectively and sensitively. There's no use having a static presence on a social networking site as fan following thrives on real-time updates (microblogs) and rapid responses. If there are questions or comments that haven't been responded to in weeks, it is more than likely that people will lose interest in participating. In fact, the lack of response on a social site may be misconstrued as lack of seriousness on the part of the candidate in addressing issues concerning the people. That would do more harm, than not having a social media presence at all.
  • Leverage the Online Connection in the Real World: Hosting debates and getting public opinion on any campaign matter is easier to do, once you establish your presence on social media; it gives you a ready group of people to reach out to instantly. It becomes easier to organize local events, fundraising events, rallies, etc., and gauge responses.
  • Understand your Online Popularity: A candidate's online popularity or number of followers on a social networking site seldom translates into actual votes. It certainly does not guarantee a win in the elections. Like all other campaign events, it is merely a great way of reaching out to people and spreading and reinforcing messages.
  • Adapt your Interactions: It is important to take into consideration both local and global sensibilities while voicing your presence on the web. Do not make hasty or offensive comments and certainly do not react negatively to any person or group of people, lest it becomes a self-destructive hate campaign. Do not discourage difference of opinion or protests. If you notice that not many people are interested in a certain section of the site but are more active in certain other sections, adapt your strategy accordingly and ensure to regularly watch out for any change in trends. In essence, if your personal achievements' blog was last read several weeks ago, but you have an active debate forum, channel your responses and key messages through the active forum. Ensure that your site caters to all or most age groups and income groups with unique features that they may find interesting. For example, a pensioner may be more interested in a candidate's take on senior citizens' healthcare initiatives, while young students may be interested in voicing their opinions about increasing employment prospects.
  • Acknowledge Participation and Support: Use your global presence on social media to publicly acknowledge the efforts of campaign volunteers, field staff and support staff. Recognition of such a scale is sure to instill confidence and a sense of ownership and belonging in party workers and supporters. In addition, take a step further and acknowledge new ideas and opinions from the general public; it will help display increased transparency in the way you function even before you are voted to power.
  • Capture Lessons Learned: It is imperative that you track and measure what worked for you and what didn't, in terms of your presence on social media. This would go a long way in revamping your campaign strategy in case your fan following does not translate into equivalent number of votes. In fact, even if you do emerge a winner, it would still be a good idea to capture the learning for your next run. Not that the same strategy would definitely work at all times, but a list of dos and don'ts would certainly serve as a starting point for subsequent social media marketing strategy frameworks.

If we think of a political campaign preceding the age of the Internet and social media, there were not many ways to judge public sentiment about political and socioeconomic issues. Earlier, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to sense the pulse of the public. Today, political campaigns and social media go hand in hand as political leaders aim to leverage the fastest channels to engage and influence the common masses. There are perhaps, very few other forms of communication where you can almost instantly monitor responses and take corrective action or build on the constructive feedback. The broad guidelines conveyed through this article would hopefully serve as a starting point as you prepare to inspire followers, make voters "like" you and convert your fans on social sites into favorable votes.