Social media can be a powerful positive or a powerful negative for a political campaign. A few years ago a young, unknown man from Northern Arkansas launched a bid for Lt. Governor based almost entirely on social media. At the time the most powerful social media available was Facebook (http://texarkanagop.blogspot.com/2009/08/mark-darr-internet-lt-governor.html). This young man owned a pizza place and was unknown to most of the members of the Republican Party outside his own region. In a short amount of time he gathered a huge Facebook following, began to travel the state and post updates, and ultimately he won the office. At the time, I called him an “Internet Lt. Governor” and he truly was just that. Without the power of social media, many people may have never heard the name Mark Darr. Thanks to the speed of the Internet, the number of people joining the social media outlets, and the power of some positive words, Mark not only won, but also gained friends around the state that he might not have otherwise. Today, social media continues to be a powerful alley for any campaign. While nothing can replace good old fashioned hand-shaking and face-to-face campaigning, there remains a large number of voters that will only hear about a candidate through social media. Not only will they hear about a candidate through social media, they will come to connect with that candidate through social media. That knowledge, gained through social media, about a candidate can be positive or negative. It’s up to you as a candidate to decide how it is going to be used.
The first thing to know about social media is that it is always changing. There’s always something new on the horizon and people always have their favorite to use. Some use Facebook, some use Twitter, some use Snap Chat, or Tumbler, or any other number of outlets. At this time, Facebook seems to be more popular with middle-aged voters. Twitter has a good number of young and middle-aged voters. The younger generations seems to be leaning toward Snap-Chat, Tumbler, and Pinterest. Even with all these media outlets, each one changes from time-to-time. They have updates, policy changes, and in some cases entire format changes. Here are a few things you need to know about each of the more popular outlets:
Facebook (http://facebook.com)– You can set up a page for yourself – “John Doe”, but you can also set up an election page “John Doe for County Pirate”. If you elect to set up a “Page” then you will have control over post, follow up post, and can announce such things as events, parties, etc. You will need to invite people to your page first. If you decide to set up group, anyone in the group can post. Keep in mind, with a group, you can have post like, “John is the greatest guy in the world and he should be elected Pirate.” However, you could also end up with post like, “I hate John, and would not vote for him for Dog do-do pick-up officer!” I suggest that you first have a page for yourself and then set up a page for your campaign. You can adjust the name of the campaign page later after you have won….or have not. In most cases, you will find a large number of your middle-aged voters on Facebook.
Twitter (http://twitter.com)– Twitter allows you to make a short burst of 140 characters at a time. You can basically get out information about your campaign quickly. Twitter is instant. You have to notify people of your Twitter account and gain followers. With Twitter, anyone can comment back, but you can block them if they become too much to handle. Also, anyone can follow you and see what you post. Twitter is not the place to post “Secret Campaign meeting at McDonald’s at 5:00pm” because there’s a good chance it’s no longer secret. Your opponents can follow your account just like your supporters. A nice little touch though is that all Tweets made are being stored in the Library of Congress. This is to allow future generations to study our social media and language, styles, trends, etc. somewhere in the future. Imagine if you started tweeting now, and eventually became President…your tweets could be studied as the foundation of a long and eventful political career.
Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/)– A quick run through Pinterest and you’ll find this social media deals a lot with pictures. You will find jokes, how-to’s, cartoons, Gif’s, and hundreds of other post. The best thing about Pinterest is the picture ability for your campaign. You can post a flyer, event, or even pictures after an event.
YouTube (http://youtube.com) - YouTube is now owed by Google-so you have to have a Google account to run this social media. You’ll want that anyway so that you can use “Google +” with your campaign. YouTube allows you to upload or watch videos. This is your opportunity to make your own commercial for your campaign, upload it, and share it for free. Anyone can then listen to what you have to saw, watch you on the computer, and make a determination about voting.
LinkedIn (http://linkedin.com) - LinkedIn is an online social media focused on networking and business. This site allows you to set up a resume of your qualifications, and then connect with other like-minded people or people in the same field as you work in on a regular basis. Setting up a campaign page here can be done, but in my opinion you would be better off to simply post your resume and then move on. These pages do show up in search engines.
Google + -(http://google.com) - Google + for many people will be the new Facebook of the future. You can set up campaign pages, visit other pages, and share your updates and post. Here you can also set up a BlogSpot Blog if you wish, and share updates on your campaign. One of the best things about Google + is that once you set up a campaign, you will find it will be indexed in the Google search engine. In the United States, Google search engines are one of the most popular search engines used. This will help your visibility in a short time.
There are naturally dozens of other social media sites, but for the most part the ones above will likely be your best benefits. I would suggest setting up the following:
Facebook – a campaign page for your campaign as soon as possible
Google+ - this helps your search engine position and will lead to YouTube
YouTube – see above, but if you are comfortable in front of the camera, then by all means make a video.
Twitter – you can quickly notify people about what’s going on in your campaign.
Once you have this set up, focus on branding yourself as a candidate. You need an angle that will draw the search engines (all of them) to you if possible.
Consider this for example – Take a moment to pull up your Google search engine. Now do a search for “Clinton Thomas”. You will have results of baseball players, medical doctors, lawyers and no telling how many others. When I did this I even found a Rear Admiral named Clinton Thomas.
Now, get your Google search engine out again and do a search for “Clinton S. Thomas, Th.D.” – don’t worry about what it all means right now, just do the search. First, thank you for doing the search as you are helping me rise in the Google search directory, second take a look at the results. It is likely you’re going to see things like The Four States News, some poetry sites, some political sites and even my company (My QIDP) is going to show up. To the right, you may even see a picture of me with some basic information from my Google+ page. You’ll find publications I have wrote, pages I have worked, etc. As you can quickly see, I have the first three pages of the Google search. Why?
The answer to “Why” is simple – branding. I looked around the Internet and found that “Clinton Thomas” was a pretty common name. I had to decide how to set myself apart. “Clinton S. Thomas” was not enough as that pulled other people as well. I decided that I would add my degree my name. While I could go by the formal title “Dr. Clinton S. Thomas,” I knew that would draw results for chemist, physicians, etc., so instead I went with the accepted written form adding the “Th.D.” on the back – Doctorate of Theology. The degree is even more unique than a “Ph.D.” for search engines. The result was a brand that throws me into the forefront of a search. My business cards have my name exactly the same, I sign document the same, and I share my information the same when telling others about my company (which I even used this post to share with you-notice that?).
If you are going to build your brand on the Internet to have voters find you easily, then you must build your brand name. For example, if your name is “John Doe” you will find that name pulls hundreds of people. So instead of setting up your Facebook page or Google + page as simply “John Doe,” you are going to set it up as “John T. Doe for County Dog Catcher.” You could even focus the name down more and set it up as “John T. Doe for Johnson County Dog Catcher, Arkansas.” Once people start doing searches for this name, they will pull up your website, Facebook and Google+ pages.
Another question to consider is “Who are you now?” If you already hold an office, let’s say you are a Justice of the Peace and you’re running for reelection, you want people to know that. You may want to build your brand based on “J.P. John T. Doe” or “John T. Doe, J.P.” There’s a good chance people will more readily find you this way. If you don’t believe it, then do another Google search right now for “Judge Larry Burgess”. The first thing you will find is the Miller County website, followed by articles about Judge Burgess. Naturally, Judge Burgess has somewhat of a unique name. If his name was “John Thomas,” you might have to search “Miller County Judge John Thomas” instead. You can see that Judge Burgess fills up most of the front page.
As a candidate for office, you should at least consider how social media could impact your campaign. It will likely reach some voters that you simply cannot reach otherwise. Any campaign running now would do well to address social media and what it can do for the campaign. Many candidates have been running the tried-and-true handshake, public meeting, newspaper publications, and signs for sometime now. Those are all-strong, especially in Miller County, and should still be employed. You should still consider social media too though. If you do not consider social media, there’s a good chance that your opponent and his or her supporters will consider it. You may soon find information about your campaign in the social media world and if you have not addressed it you may have no defense against the information an opponent may put out.