Supporters Are Reporters: Harnessing Social Media During an Election Season

October 28th, 2010
Author: Hailey

I personally believe that every brand (be it a consumer brand, b2b, cause, movement, politician, etc.) needs a social media strategy. Whether it’s on a small scale and consists only of active listening, or on a large scale with serious strategy, weighed tactics, targeted content – your brand needs social media.

Politicians are a brand and they need social media, too. Why? Because supporters are reporters. According to a Pew Internet Research Survey online politicking translates into offline activism. Another Pew survey showed that 1 in 3 internet users disseminates political information via social media platforms. And it’s conventional wisdom that people trust the information delivered by their friends online – opening the potential nexus for a candidate even further.

If you need another reason why a political campaign needs an online presence, how about this: 130,048,500 US Facebook users are voting-age eligible [source]. There are 230,782,870 voting-age eligible people in the US [source]. While this means that 56% of the voting-age eligible population is on Facebook, what it really means is that campaigning needs to be online and it needs to be done right.

For the most part, a social media strategy can be approached with similar tactics a political campaign would utilize for a traditional media strategy. As with everything, there are pros and cons to both, and in no way should a social media strategy take the place of a traditional media strategy – at least not yet.


Any political operative can tell you that the national committees’ databases are not always up-to-date or the most reliable when it comes to microtargeting. Yes, the data is improving, but there is even more data available online. Facebook, for example, allows you to advertise to very specific people. If your goal is to reach out to loyal voters, who are female, live in a suburb, are fans of the DNC  and are ages 25-34 you can do that. The targeting can be so specific, that a campaign could indicate a voter who is employed by a certain type of company, is married and has three children. And above all, it is cheap.

Crisis Communications

During campaign season there is always a crisis. The candidate makes a gaffe, a staffer slips up, a spouse says something off the cuff to a reporter. Social media platforms allow a campaign to quickly snuff out a problem before it turns into a week’s worth of the broadcast and print news cycle. A campaign is able to jump on Facebook or Twitter and rectify a situation before too many supporters have heard about it. After all, supporters are reporters – so nip it in the bud before they jump ship or spread the news to their network.


Yes, I know it’s the 2008 buzzword, but it seems that now more than ever voters want transparency. They want to know what the candidates really think and why. Voters want to know why a candidate flips on an issue. They want straight answers. They want to know where the money is going. It’s important, as with any brand or campaign, to remain transparent to your followers. If there is a problem, you say, “yes, we know there is a problem and this is what we’re doing to fix the situation.” You’ll also want to make sure that it is clear who is delivering the message on your chosen platforms, especially when it is not the candidate themselves.  Be upfront and they’ll keep coming back for more.

Sell It

Take coca-cola for example. People who love coca-cola aren’t going to buy another brand, they’re going to buy coca-cola. But coca-cola still has to sell it to their loyalists, and so does a candidate and elected official. So sell it. I’m not advocating for pandering to a certain group of people, and just telling them whatever they want to hear, ultimately resulting in false and empty promises. But you have to give people a reason to decide to like you, to leave their house and vote for you, and ultimately to keep coming back for more. Think about the people you want to bring in as supporters and keep those that are loyalists interested in what you have to say.

Get Out The Vote – GOTV

A campaign’s social media strategy needs to be included in a campaign’s overall GOTV efforts. Are you shuttling people to the polls? Tell them where they can get more information. Is it the last day to register to vote? Make sure your supporters know where they can go to register.

Unique Content

Yes, you want to do something differently than your opponent. But you should also include content that is unique to your campaign and your traditional media efforts. Include videos, live interviews with the candidate, audio clips and even unaired TV spots. Remember that voters are inundated with your mailers and TV ads and radio ads. The last thing you want to do is feed them updates with the same content. Sure, include all of your ads on YouTube, but when it comes to a platform on which you wholeheartedly engage with your supporters be sure to reward them with something new.

Staff It

To execute a political social media strategy it has to be staffed well. You want someone who understands the candidate, the themes of the campaigns, the issues and talking points for the campaign. Above all you want someone who understands social media and what is appropriate and inappropriate to say. This person will need to advise the full communications staff and will also need to know how to handle a fire when one breaks out. Your supporters will also want, and therefore expect, that when they comment on a Facebook page or Tweet a candidate that they are given a prompt and helpful response. Make sure your platforms are manned at all times and your supporters acknowledged.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to a political social media strategy, and certainly more than I’ve laid out here. I think that every candidate from the local to the federal level should get into the game online and engage with their audience because it really comes down to your supporters are reporters. They expect to be able to get your campaign news and information and the candidate’s views on Facebook and Twitter. Voters are out there waiting to consume your content, so go to them. Supporters disseminate your campaign news online, they advocate for you online, they bring you new supporters, and they all cash in for you on election day at the polls.

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  • i think way too much attention is being focussed on social media in general.

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