As the May 2011 election approaches there are plenty of reasons to include social media, specifically Facebook, in your candidates’ campaign strategy. As Seth Godin reminds us, familiarity breeds trust. What breeds familiarity more than Facebook? With more than 500 million members and its inherent ability to share photos, status updates, birthdays, events and a multitude of other content, Facebook is a tool no candidate should be without.
One of the most notable examples of the leveraging of social media for a campaign is the 2008 Presidential election, where President Obama used the tools to his best advantage, tweeting, posting on Facebook and creating YouTube videos that spread his message much faster than any traditional marketing medium. Many argue that this strategy is partly what won the election.
Obama might have been wise to the fact that no longer is it just who you know, but who knows you that wins elections. Facebook can develop a network of people that know you, as well as drive traffic to a website, encourage conversation around issues and increase support like no other medium. An effective social media strategy is an excellent complement to a strong in-person campaign. Notice I didn’t say replacement. Remember that the goal of your pages to attract attention to in person speaking engagements and to generate dialogue around important issues. That attention and dialogue should generate the goodwill that then translates to votes.
A word of caution – doing it wrong can hurt rather than help your campaign. So before you rush to create a Facebook page keep the following tips in mind.
Create a fan page
Politicians often receive thousands of friend requests to their personal Facebook account. Since Facebook places a limit on the number of friends (5,000) a political fan page for your candidate is a better option. A fan page allows an unlimited number of fans, and the opportunity to build a community of supports around the issues and positions critical to the candidate. Facebook has provided a politician fan page setting, which allows candidates to include details on the info tab such as the office the candidate is seeking, the current office, and a biography in addition to all the standard page info sections.
When setting up the page make sure to choose public figure, then politician as the page type. Also, once a page reaches 25 fans make sure to set up a custom URL, so you can direct supports to your page at facebook.com/nameofcandidate rather than a random string of letters and numbers. Create a welcome tab to explain your candidate’s position on issues and explain the dialogue fans will expect to see on the page. Generate emotion around the causes and encourage them to like the page for more details.
Use the customised widget Facebook offers to integrate the fan page directly on the campaign website. This widget encourages website visitors to fan your page directly from the site, and shows the status updates, the number of fans and even profile pics of fans within the widget. Facebook provides drop in code for website developers, making this a relatively easy task for web page designers.
Use Profile images to your advantage. Once there is a fan base, ask fans of the page and your friends to change their profile picture to the campaign logo in the weeks leading up to the election. Ask them to share campaign slogans, news updates and photos with their friends across the network.
Send an email blast with one call to action – to fan the page. Use the email to explain the purpose of the page and the issues that will be discussed there. Remember this isn’t the time to ask for votes, rather to ask for a connection that you strengthen with posts and conversations.
Facebook is a perfect platform for engagement, as people can easily see other comments and add to the conversation. If you are the candidate, post about positions, your votes on issues and your plans for the future. Use this platform to have a personal dialogue with citizens. Encourage dialogue by asking questions and encouraging people to share their own thoughts. Attempt to engage a few of the opponent’s supporters on your page as well , remembering that as fans comment on your page, their comments are shared to their own network of friends, spreading the message further. A spirited back and forth dialogue that results in a high number of comments on a thread increases your Edge Rank (Facebook page ranking algorithm), which makes your posts more likely to show up in fans’ newsfeeds.
Maintain transparency and authenticity. Make sure the posts are in the candidate’s voice. Do not relegate posting to an office intern or anyone else not able to engage in a back and forth dialogue quickly. Ideally the candidate should be doing the posting, but if that’s not possible at least make sure the responses have the candidate’s approval and the poster has a clear understanding of the strategy and what is appropriate to post.
Post regularly, daily if possible and post ideas that generate interest among fans. What changes should be made in your district? What concerns to people have? Highlight interesting facts, events and positive attributes of your area. If your candidate has a speaking engagement coming up, use the Facebook page to generate questions to be answered during the rally. During the in-person event, use the Facebook fan by name when answering the question. Let people in on the process and they’ll return the favour with votes.
Don’t underestimate the power of your supporters. Ask them to post to the page, submit a YouTube video or to share your page in their newsfeeds. Ask them for ideas and thoughts. Crowdsource topics for conversation. Have supporters upload photos of themselves placing campaign signs in their yards or wearing the campaign buttons. Make a YouTube video of those photos with music and share it with fans. Be fun and engaging! The key here is to keep your supporters and some of your opponents, interested and talking on the page.
This is just the beginning. The next step is to continue to find ways to engage supporters and to build awareness of your stance on the issues. As the election draws near, create a Facebook event for the election, invite all the fans and then send a reminder the day before and the day of the event.
Ask for votes now, and pull out all the stops. What have you got to lose, except the election?
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