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Supporters Are Reporters: Harnessing Social Media During an Election Season

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

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.

Microtargeting

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.

Transparency

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.

iPhone 4 Unveiled at WWDC

Monday, June 7th, 2010

As rumored, Steve Jobs unveiled the newest generation of the iPhone during his keynote at Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference today. The new phone, which has dropped “phone” from its name and is now referred to as iOS 4, will be available for pre-order on 6/21 and in stores on 6/24.

The controversial Gizmodo leak in April got it right in terms of its design. The iOS 4 will include glass on the front and back for a more scratch (and fingerprint) resistant surface and stainless steel around the newly squared sides. Apple’s new phone is thinner than its predecessors, features two camera lenses and an LED flash, as well as 326 pixels per inch and a 3 axis gyroscope to help with tracking on its GPS sensor. The new phone will have HD video recording capabilities (720p quality) and users will be able to edit video on the phone.

What does this all mean?

Apple is hoping that it means they have changed the playing field again. And I, an Apple-obsessed user, agree that it will change the way we communicate forever because it will up the ante on our expectations of what we think our phones should be capable of. Soon we won’t be calling them “smartphones,” they’ll all be just phones as consumer expectations continue to dictate the course of technology.

All of these specs (available in their entirety here) and highly technological language shake out to a much better battery life (think: 7 hours of talk time, 6 hours of 3G web browsing and 10 hours of WiFi browsing, as well as 10 hours of video, 40 hours of music, and 300 hours of standby); video chatting; multitasking and folder organized applications; better telephone connection; faster internet; insanely clear and crisp images, and better GPS. Oh, and voice control. And photo and video geotagging.

Come June 24th, we’ll be able to geotag our pictures (can we say Foursquare integration in the near future?) on Twitter and our videos on Facebook. We’ll be able to video chat with our friends in Ohio for some quality face time and then show the same friends what we’re seeing around us – while still chatting. The new phone will undoubtedly give rise to a new generation of social networking platforms as well as push our stand-by favorites (Twitter and Facebook, we heart you) to come up with new functions to integrate with the ever changing mobile technology landscape.

Endgadget has a great slideshow of Steve Jobs’ keynote with pictures of the iOS 4’s new features (of which there are 1,500 in total), as well as clips from the promotional videos.

Links of the Week: May 7th Edition

Friday, May 7th, 2010

The Social Implications of Like Buttons

Facebook’s release of the web-wide “Like” button and the new “Like” function instead of “Fan” on Facebook has implications for the web, brands, and users.

Internet 2009 In Numbers

Find out 2009’s Internet use by the numbers – from how many emails were sent to how many websites were added, it’s all here.

The Anatomy of Trust in Social Media

Brendan Hughes attended the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, where his moderation of a discussion about the anatomy of trust in social media prompted this review. Hughes provides great graphics that illustrate a user’s circle of contacts and how this plays into trust on social media platforms.

FCC Turns Up the Heat in Battle for Net Neutrality

Mashable talks about the change in Internet regulations that the Federal Communications Commission is implementing. The new regulations will favor users over Internet service provider companies.

The Growth of Social Media

A follow up to Erik Qualman’s original social media stats video from summer ‘09, this video explores the growth of social media and its impact on the world.

New FTC Complaint Filed Against Facebook

Facebook has recently come under fire for its new privacy related settings. On Wednesday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed its formal FTC complaint against Facebook, requesting that the FTC “investigat Facebook, enjoin its unfair and deceptive business practices, and require Facebook to protect the privacy of Facebook users.”

The Age of Politicking Online

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Go where your audience is. That’s what any company – or product, cause, individual, etc. – has to do to get their message out. And your audience is online. With more websites and social media platforms and apps blooming every day it’s challenging to cut through the noise. Even more challenging is to figure out what you actually need to politic online.

This week, at the Politics Online Conference, Microsoft unveiled its new platform for online campaigning, TownHall. There is relatively little cost involved in using the platform should a candidate choose to utilize TownHall and stay within its templates. A main feature of the platform is a discussion board style functionality. The campaign establishes discussion topics, users can ask questions or offer opinions and earn points for contributing. How you reward users with high points, I assume, is up to the campaign. This functionality gives the candidate/campaign a chance to respond to questions and/or concerns.

In this era of social media platforms, a campaign’s website features are going to become less important. In the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama’s campaign got it right. Yes, they had a website, but they were on Twitter, and Facebook, and YouTube, and an even bigger yes – there was an app for that.

Yes, TownHall is probably a great, inexpensive, program for local and even state level races. It’s also great for smaller non-profit and issue based campaigns. But every candidate and campaign has to recognize that his/her/its website is no longer the most important asset.

According to Alexa.com these are the top trafficked sites:

1. Google

2. Facebook

3. Yahoo

4. YouTube

5. Wikipedia

6. Craigslist

7. Blogger

8. Ebay

9. Twitter

10. Amazon

Considering this list, your audience is telling you where you need to be, and the platforms are telling you what you need to do. Yes, TownHall can be helpful, but these platforms are going to be more helpful than TownHall can ever be. Users are already comfortable finding and disseminating information on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and their blogs. They will find you, and you have to be there. Sure, they might go to your website a time or two, but with all of the platforms that users are on, if you are right there with them you will drive your message home more successfully.

If a voter can get all their answers about what the candidate thinks about healthcare on Facebook, the voter is going to stay there. There is no need to go to your website. If the voter can contribute directly through Facebook, that’s even better. If you don’t give your voters or supporters an excuse to venture away from your Facebook page, or from any of the other platforms, you will be able to engage them more. The more steps you add, the harder you make it, the more interest you lose.

iPad Review

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

It’s been a week since I acquired the hyped up iPad, so I thought it would be appropriate to review my new gadget.

I was surprised by the weight of the iPad, though I didn’t really have an expectation as to its weight. It could be cumbersome if you’re standing up on a train or bus because of the weight and size (just about the weight and size of a hardcover book).

The screen is also hard to keep clean, especially if you play Bejeweled, which is a must-have for an iPad user. Using an eye glasses cloth cleans up any smudges quickly.

When I started to consider purchasing the iPad, it was hard to imagine whether or not I would want one that runs off a 3G network (which means waiting even longer to acquire the latest from Apple), or just the WiFi machine. In retrospect, I think it makes sense to purchase the 3G iPad if you can afford to fork over some extra cash and come to terms with paying extra for the service each additional month. However, if you forgo a laptop and the internet in your home, it would make sense.

Another thing I didn’t particularly care for about the iPad is that you have to purchase a lot of applications for it to be comparable to an iPhone. Yes, it does have the feel of an iPhone, so one could claim it is a glorified iPhone. It doesn’t come with a clock/timer or a calculator, the stock application, or the weather application. If you want these, you can purchase them – and despite many rumors I’ve been asked about, not every app for the iPad costs $10 or $40 or some other ridiculous amount.

Besides these grievances, which I am happy to work around, I personally think the iPad is awesome.

The battery life is fantastic, promising you 10 hours of fun – that’s far more than my laptop and phone can last, combined.

The iBooks application is great, and reading on the iPad is definitely enjoyable. The machine comes pre-loaded with Winnie The Pooh, so you can really get a sense of what it looks like for books to have graphics. If you have kids, it could be the perfect piece of technology to bring on vacation and have a bedtime story literally at your fingertips.

My favorite application is the ABC Player. As an iPhone user, I dreamt of the day that ABC would have a video player application for the phone. I enjoy having the ability to watch my favorite shows from ABC on demand online. This application takes it to a whole new level. The graphics are perfectly clear, and there is no network interruption that I frequently experience on line. The video quality in general on the iPad is pretty stellar.

Another fantastic application is Tweet Deck. It brings interaction to a new level – if you own an iPad you should download this application immediately. If you do not own an iPad, you should go buy one and then download the application immediately.

The App store has a lot to offer anyone, allowing you to really tailor your iPad to use it however you want to. You can use it to work, and conduct slideshows, and edit documents, and use your email. You can use it as a reader with the added benefit of the Internet, iPod, and tweeting. You can use it to watch videos or to occupy the kids during a long car ride. Or you can use it for all of the above.

The videos and descriptions really don’t do the iPad justice – I would recommend heading over to your closest Apple store and playing with one. They’re pretty unbelievable.