By now, most candidates for public office have figured out that incorporating social media into their campaigns is a critically important step. It’s the how to do this that escapes most of them. That’s perfectly understandable. The last couple of election cycles, much of this social media business was new. That was then, this is now. Your audience is very savvy online, shouldn’t you be, too?

First a note to the candidates:

You have my deepest respect and admiration for being willing to step up and commit to helping our community, state, school board, water district, transportation or other sort of infrastructure management body. Democracy is not a spectator sport and I applaud your willingness to spend so much time in the service of others, let alone spend the time it takes to just get elected.

That said…can we talk? Much of how campaigns have been using social media amounts, at best, to a waste of people’s time and attention, and, at worst, to relentlessly spamming your friends. Not only is this ineffective, you’ll likely be irritating some of your friends and supporters – and I know you don’t want to do that.

For the candidates (and those who love them), I offer a few tips for using social media to get you started:

  1. Define your objectives: It’s amazing how often this step is bypassed. Do you want to use social media to communicate with your existing supporter base or grow your base? Do you want to raise funds, awareness or both? Knowing the answer to these question will have a lot to do with your strategy. I’ve seen campaigns hoping to grow (don’t they all?), but using the tools as if they only wanted to be in touch with an existing audience. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that the online community didn’t grown much.
  2. Engage (a.k.a. It’s not all about you): Don’t just publish. If you primarily use these new channels to push out your “Come learn about me” events and links to your “Donate here” page, people will tune out pretty quickly. Don’t miss the important opportunities to talk with, not at, your audience. Doing this well will build your reputation and visibility.
  3. Public vs. Private: Know what content (information, photos, etc.) about you can be seen online by the many (everyone) or by the few (close friends and family). Then, assume that it all can be seen by the many and plan with that in mind.
  4. Connect the online and offline worlds: Most of your activities and content should have both online and offline components woven seamlessly together. This can range from posting photos on Facebook from an offline event to holding live events online allowing a large group the opportunity to interact in real-time, and everything in between.
  5. Fish where the fish are: People want to hear from you where they hang out, not where you want them to be found. The fish are on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube; not on your website. If you wait for the fish to come to you, you may be sitting alone with your pole in the water for a very long time.
  6. Get a running start: It takes time to build real momentum, so start early. Sure, you can easily get a certain number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers in a short period of time, but will they be the right ones? Would you prefer to be connected to more people who don’t care about you or your message or fewer who are engaged and interested?
  7. Damage control: Most people aren’t thinking about this as a top priority when they begin engaging through social media. We don’t really expect damage, so why would we be thinking about damage control? The fact is that, should something go awry or someone have something negative to say, it’ll be online in a heartbeat. If you’ve done a good job establishing your community online and have shown yourself to be authentic and responsive, you’re in a much stronger position to be able to respond to the situation in a faster and more credible way than had you not built your online presence so thoughtfully.
  8. It takes work: Social media is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. For some reason, many have the misconception that all that is required is the up-front work to set up a “presence.” In order for your online presence to work for you, it takes work – attentive, responsive, ongoing work. I’ve seen many people set up Facebook pages, encourage people to join and then allow it to go dormant, even when community members post messages or questions. This is akin to publishing your phone number, yet not answering when someone calls.
  9. On a list of 8 tips, this important one comes at no extra charge: This may not be the best job for the intern or your neighbor’s son: I’m sure the intern and the neighbor’s son are delightful people. They might even be heavy Facebook users. Just because someone does something often doesn’t mean they do it well. At speaking engagements, I often use driving as an example. I know people who have been driving for years, but when I’m in the car with them, my foot instinctively searches for the brake pedal on the passenger side. They drive a lot; they don’t drive well. Understanding best practices, the nuances of various tools, social media analytics and the pace and etiquette of the different social platforms are not simple tasks. There is too much at stake. Find (or hire) the right person to help you leverage the potential of social media and taking your campaign online – where the fish are.


Running a campaign isn’t easy. It takes a dedicated team to develop and execute the campaign’s strategy. You don’t need a separate social media strategy. What you need is a good understanding of how to use social channels in a way which supports your campaign strategy. Understanding why this is important and how to execute this will go a long way toward having the candidate be every bit as compelling online as they are in person.


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