For those who are seeking elective office these days, social media is all the rage.
Candidates are rushing to build Facebook and Twitter followings to facilitate fundraising and volunteer recruitment. Combined with personal calls, “Robocalls”, street signs, traditional media, networking events, e-newsletters, direct mail and old fashioned “shoe leather”, they see social media as another important communication tool at their disposal. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that very few politicians understand what makes social media effective, and I have yet to see a single campaign utilize Web 2.0 “best practices” to maximize results. I contend that those candidates who finally “get it”, and make the commitment to execute properly, will gain a huge competitive advantage over their opponents.
So, why would politicians not use a potentially winning resource to its fullest potential? Here are five reasons.
1. This is still relatively new.
I’ll start by cutting everyone some slack. There is clearly a learning curve that needs to sort itself out. I don’t expect politicians to “get” the nuance of social media right away. Social media can be counter-intuitive at times, and if you haven’t studied it, your traditional mind set will set up barriers to exploration and discovery.
2. Experienced Consultants
Most candidates consult with “experts” who have run successful campaigns before. This makes sense–go with what has worked in the past. Unfortunately, the internet was not around during the Eisenhower Administration, so that “seasoned” consultant may not even know how to check email, let alone plan and implement a social media strategy. This is not a knock on veteran campaigners–they are still critical–it’s just that non-traditional communications need to be approached in a way that is foreign to them. It’s a different strategic process.
3. Time Sensitivity
Many campaigns get off to a late start. A non-candidate often pull papers when he or she sees an opportunity. This adds to the urgency of building a volunteer “army” and raising money. Consequently, the goals of all communication efforts are focused on these necessities. When the goals are limited, the action plan is limited. Building, nurturing and engaging a following over time through commonly accepted Web 2.0 “best practices”– target audience research, personal interactions, great content, humor, etc.–becomes difficult at best. There is simply not enough time to do it right, so candidates invariably become broadcasters and salespeople rather than participants and value providers.
4. It’s all about “ME”!
Social media has been referred to as a giant cocktail party. People will follow you if they think you add value to the conversation and are “real”. Do you want to make friends with the guy at the cocktail party who introduces himself, hands out a business card and immediately asks you to buy his stuff? Of course not. But that’s exactly what politicians are doing on Twitter and Facebook right now. “Look at my photos…Donate to my campaign…Hold my signs…Make some calls for me…Tell all your friends…Join my followers…It’s all about ME!” This is just as obnoxious as the guy at the party–and exclusively self-centered social media approaches will only alienate prospective voters in the long run.
Even though it’s free to start, effective social media takes time, commitment, strategy, creativity and expertise. Most politicians are understandably event focused and time constrained. They delegate or subcontract specific duties to volunteers and paid consultants. Budgets and staffs are often limited, but candidates want to get on board with this new marketing phenomenon somehow. Unfortunately, tasking interns to broadcast their every move on Facebook is a poor substitute for a fully integrated social media campaign.
Free advice to political candidates
Given “the nature of the beast”, some broadcasting will always be necessary. With that said, it’s clearly time for a mind set change. While traditional campaigning still works, social media efforts, planned and implemented properly, will yield tangible results–money, volunteers, “trust” and votes. So bite the bullet, even if it’s out of your own pocket and the election is right around the corner. Hire Web 2.0 experts. Work with them and try to understand the key strategic differences between old and new marketing. If your message is compelling and you are perceived as a decent human being, the return on investment will be astronomical.