Incorporating Social Media Into Political Strategy

Social media: whether they love or hate it, modern candidates can’t ignore it. Since Facebook’s founding in 2004, social media sites have exploded in popularity and leveraged a considerable influence on how the public consumes political news and opinions. The traditional print and online newspapers that had previously sufficed as platforms for candidates who wanted to share their positions and ideas are no longer enough; for a voter base accustomed to the closeness of a personal profile, the distance of a newspaper quote feels insufficient. For those working on campaigns in 2017, planning social media is a necessary aspect of preparing strategy.

But wait, some skeptics might say, Aren’t millennials the only ones who buy into social media? That group alone can’t have that much sway.

Yes…and no. While millennials certainly represent a significant chunk of users, the age group doesn’t dominate the social media landscape. According to surveys conducted by Statista, about 44% of Facebook users (roughly 96 million individuals) are between the ages of 18 and 34. That number leaves about 118 million users in the United States who fall into different demographic categories. From a big-picture standpoint, the 218 million total US users that Facebook alone can reach makes building a social media presence a must for candidates who want to make their voices heard.

Incorporating social media into campaign strategy has to be undertaken with care, and a few best practices need to be observed by any strategist.

Be Active.

The entire point of a social media profile is to put the candidate forward as a timely, thinking, real person with influential ideas. An inactive or unengaging profile will not only lose user interest, but it will frame a candidate as being behind the times and unable to keep up with modern modes of communication. Regular updates and lively engagement is a must!

Moreover, the main aim of any social media campaign can’t be to engage followers a candidate already has. Rather, a strategist should look to boost their likes and share in order to catch the attention of their followers’ friends. The more likes and shares a candidate achieves, the better chance that their posts will end up on the feeds of their followers’ friends – and potentially draw in those friends as potential supporters.

Know Your (Platform) Audience.

All social media sites are not created equal. Different platforms have different expectations for communication; the expansive status a communications writer would draft for Facebook wouldn’t suit the hashtag-heavy, 140-character expectation for a Twitter post. Learn the “language,” as it were, and speak it! Listen to your audience – doing so could potentially provide a strategist with ideas for how a candidate can better appeal to supporters and potentials.

Have Contingency Plans.

Social media slips happen. Whether an aide forgets to switch to their personal account before tweeting, or a communications writer accidentally misquotes statistics, the social media team needs to be prepared with an action plan to take down and/or publish a clarification. That said the communications department should invest time in building a well-thought-out process in place that carefully vets potential communications before anyone presses the “publish” button.