Using social media is more and more a basic voter contact activity in any campaign.

The basics, direct mail, phone calls, door knocking, television, and radio and even yard signs are still fundamental to winning campaigns.

These basics, which some might call “old school” can not be neglected.  Campaigns that neglect the basics don’t win.

At the same time, social media has become a fundamental part of most campaigns.

If you are not yet convinced that using social media is actually important, consider this:

The Pew Research center found that as of 2014, 84% of American adults use the internet and  74% of online adults use social networking sites.

Here’s the break down of adults on the major Social Media platforms. 

Facebook – 71%

Linkedin – 28%

Pinterest – 28%

Instagram – 26%

Twitter – 23%

Sure, a lot of people are using social media but does it get me votes?

It’s not entirely clear how effective using social media is with regards to getting votes.

I have seen a lot of claims, but I don’t know of any campaigns that have won by only using social media.

Most local campaigns and even a lot of congressional races seem to have at most only a few hundred followers. And that alone should bring doubts about its value.

However, it may be that small local races ran by smaller campaign teams just don’t have the resources, staff or experience to effectively implement an effective social media campaign.

I recently met with a candidate, running for mayor of a small town, that had approximately 2,900 likes on his Facebook page.

The city he is running in has about 45,000 registered voters.  So 2,900 is not a bad number assuming they are all actually going to vote.

He is not just doing social media.  He is walking every day and spending a lot of money on direct mail.

No one can argue that social media has not had a huge impact on national politics starting with Howard Dean back in 2004.

Howard Dean was a pioneer with Meetup and web-based fundraising.  He did not win his election but he definitely made history.

Every winning presidential campaign since that year has had a heavy social media presence.

George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and of course Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have all made tremendous use of social media in recent times.

I am a political person, and so are most my friends.  I can’t go on Facebook without getting hit with a number of political message for a number of given candidates.

But even my friends from high school who are fairly nonpolitical are posting their opinions and reposting articles and reports about the various presidential candidates.

Sometimes these nonpolitical folks are even dabbling in local politics.

But again, will it work for you?  Will it make a difference in a local race?

In a previous article I discussed tribalism and the social influence of friends, neighbors, and coworkers.  You can’t ignore the power of of tribalism and social influence, especially if you are active on any social medial platforms.

Social media is about creating a following or tribe that influences others.

I have a friend whose candidate lost their election by only 28 votes.  That’s extremely close.

But in campaigns, CLOSE DOES NOT MATTER.   Like the legendary James Carville once said “this is not horseshoes or hand grenades“.

The bottom line with political campaigns is that you can lose by 28 votes or 28,000 but you still lose.

With an effective, thought out, and well disciplined social media campaign a few dozen, hundred, or even thousand additional votes should be possible.

The pitfalls of using social media.

Social media is fluid.  Right now Facebook is king but where’s MySpace these days?  Undoubtedly new interfaces will come front and center and command attention, much like SnapChat is doing.

I see a lot of people trying to have a presence on everything.  Some of which they are not all that familiar with and much of which just is not all that appropriate for political campaigns.

Stick to what you know and what gives you the biggest bang for your time and money – Facebook.

A big problem I see is that way too much campaign time is spent on social media.

Social media takes a lot of effort.  It takes daily focus to really pull it off effectively.

For candidates, social media must primarily be about campaigning.  If you’re spending your time with cat pictures or selfies, you’re not spending your time on winning your election.

You need to weigh this activity with other proven techniques like walking door to door and phoning voters.

If social media is impacting these other important campaign activities then the best bet is to just have a limited presence.

One of the biggest problems I see with social media and political campaigns is message discipline.   There seems to be none for most campaigns.

I see campaigns all the time posting all their mail pieces, commercials all over their Facebook page before they are even mailed or presented to the intended targeted voters.

And this is often done with no concern for the intended targeted audience.

On one campaign I was recently following, I observed all their direct mail go up on Facebook as it was created and long before it was intended to be mailed.

This is a huge mistake.  Don’t think your opponent is not monitoring your social media, using it to anticipate your moves, and using that information to counter you.

Giving them the heads up before mail hits allows them to adjust their message and directly counter you in a timely manner.

Whoever is running your social media, if it is you, a trusted staff person, or a volunteer, message disciple must be practiced.

The Bottom Line of Social Media.

  1. If you don’t master social media now you may regret it on Election Day.
  2. Stick with Facebook unless you are an expert on other platforms and have the resources to utilize them.
  3. Practice message discipline.
  4. Don’t post all your mail pieces or any other media unless it directly relevant to your main message.
  5. Don’t post your mail pieces and other media before they have been presented directly to voters in the method they were intended.
  6. Social media should rightly take its place in any campaign tool box.
  7. But don’t make it the only thing your campaign does and don’t do it at the expense of the basics – mail, walking, phoning.