Who remembers back in 2008 and 2012, when the US Democrats and Barack Obama revolutionized political election campaigns with their use of social media? For the first time ever, voters could be laser-targeted with specific messages relating to key issues. It was exciting, surprising, and liberating to see how easily smart marketers were able to outwit the old-school political campaigners with a few clicks of a mouse.
In 2015, the same social media strategies have now evolved into very sophisticated algorithms that – when used properly – can dramatically influence voter turn out and thus transform election campaigns as we know them.
Are political candidates keeping up with the times?
I wish I could say “Yes”, but it looks like the vast majority of politicians still have no clue about how to use social media to win an election. Most are simply sending “push” messages like “vote for me” and “donate now”. These bland, blatantly self-serving messages are not the way to voters hearts or their wallets.
Unfortunately, one of the first emails I received from Hillary Clinton’s campaign was asking for my donation. Really, Team Hillary? Is that truly the best way to establish trust, connection, and loyalty from your audience?
The short answer is NO. Instead, the Hillary camp could be talking about the issues that are close to my heart, building a relationship, demonstrating her willingness to truly connect with people.
I’m certain they are just ironing out the kinks during these early days. Hillary has hired a team of digital superstars from all over the country. So far, the vast majority of her digital communication has been happening over on Twitter, which is an excellent choice for politicians. It’s easy to monitor, quick, direct, and easily updated.
Modern technology allows candidates to closely target their audience so they can speak directly only about the issues important to them. Key messages – including “donate now” – can be delivered at the right time to the right people for maximum impact.
The Old Campaigners
The old-fashioned election campaign involves “blasting” generic messages to all voters on television, radio, billboards, posters, postal mail-outs, emails, brochures, etc. These generic messages do reach voters, and are important for setting a solid foundation for your campaign platform.
However, these methods are outdated and should never be used in isolation. Smart politicians know the importance of laser-targeting their constituents, and they’re communicating with potential supporters in ways never seen before.
It’s interesting that almost every poll predicted a Conservative loss. No one predicted the overwhelming success of the SNP (Scottish National Party). Everyone expected the night to turn out quite differently from how it did.
I think this disconnect occurred because too many people are thinking “old school” when it comes to politics. This is a new era. If the polls watched social media instead, they might’ve predicted a different outcome.
Leaflets in a letterbox are NOT the answer in 2015. It’s time for political parties to wake up and harness the power of social media in this new generation.
The New Campaigners
In this year’s UK General Election, the result was fiercely contested online. Many polls predicted a hung Parliament, with no party having a clear majority. Against the odds, the Conservatives have won a majority – meaning they are able to lead without the need for a coalition.
How did they do it? Any marketer will tell you that word of mouth advertising is extremely powerful. No where is that more evident than in a political campaign. Studies show that social proof is extremely powerful in swaying voter opinion.
Many MPs – Labour and Conservative alike – built a social presence, listened to voters, and engaged with them directly. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn all played a huge role in their success.
Social media is a cheap and direct method for political candidates to bond with voters. It’s important to harness this power and design your content & communication accordingly. Simple video updates, custom-designed images, action photos, important quotes, Q&A sessions, and live events can all be promoted through social channels. Likewise, targeted Facebook and Twitter ads have far more impact when you are already actively engaged with your audience.
Remember to use social media to interact and engage with voters, not just to broadcast your messages. Social media is a two-way street. When combined with traditional methods, a strategic social media election campaign is virtually unstoppable.
Against the Odds
Early this year our agency was hired by a UK Conservative MP running for re-election. She is a dynamic leader who is passionate about her community. So, developing a strategy where she could connect directly with individual voters was essential to her success. Our brief was to reach voters in her electorate with key messages, increase donations, encourage more volunteers, and (of course) win the election.
The strategy we implemented for her closely resembled our role in Barack Obama’s re-election campaign back in 2012. Back then, our objective was to reach Americans living abroad, increase overseas voter registration, and voter turnout for the 2012 election campaign. The objectives for each new campaign are almost the same, but the implementation is usually quite a bit different.
This time around, voters responded with overwhelming enthusiasm to our client’s video updates, live Q&A sessions, and custom images focused on her key campaign issues.
A Strategy That Works
The results of the UK General Election 2015 show there is a huge opportunity for local politicians. With a little planning, and wise use of the social media tools available, politicians can be far more influential than ever before.
Political candidates are busy. They need simple strategies that can deliver a big impact. They cannot afford to waste time testing, or run the risk of making a gigantic blunder.
When we begin working with a political party or candidate, we take the time to listen. We use a few metrics to assess where they are and what is most important to them. We’re listening for specific things here: strategy, issues, concerns, hot buttons, danger zones. This “active” listening is the foundation of our strategy that works.
The next steps are a bit more complicated, and the implementation varies from candidate to candidate. However, I’ve included them here for your reference:
Step One: Identify the key messages
Step Two: Identify the ideal audience(s)
Step Three: Map out the content & communication calendar
Step Four: Set up all social channels for maximum impact
Step Five: Target the ideal audience carefully
Step Six: Deliver, Test, Refine, Repeat
These six steps combine to produce a powerful social strategy that delivers results. I’m happy to report that the strategy worked back in 2012 and – with a few adjustments for new technology – it has continued working for our clients each year since then.
If you need help designing a social strategy for your election campaign, please complete a customer application. We’ll review to see if we’re a good match, then set up a time to chat.
Jennifer Sheahan is the Founder of Socially Grown – a Chicago-based social media agency dedicated to supporting politicians in the US, UK, and Australia.