For political campaigns, social media is extremely important. It allows groups to gather new supporters, keep in touch easily and quickly with existing supporters and bypass the traditional channels of news media such as local newspapers and radio stations, which are pressed for space and sometimes have their own agendas. Social media needs to be used effectively, however.
There are two main social media sites at the moment: Facebook and Twitter.
This is the most important medium to use for a local group as it gives you the ability to organise online as well as campaign. It’s very easy to form a Facebook group, which can be public or private, where you can connect to other activists. You can also create a Facebook page for people to follow which can be used to promote events.
It is worth noting that these two types of connections are different. Facebook fan pages allow supporters to keep up to date with your campaign and gives you a space to advertise events, promote blog posts and so on. Facebook groups can provide a space for more dedicated activists to network, discuss tactics, aims and strategy and arrange events. You may want to create both a page and a group, or only one of them, depending upon the sort of campaigning you wish to do.
Here are some dos and don’ts with Facebook.
Keep the group/page alive. Groups and pages can often start off as active but become less so as time goes on. If you are the group co-ordinator/Chair/organiser, try to post items for discussion, blog posts you think are interesting and similar things. The same goes for Facebook pages; keep your ‘fans’ interested by starting conversations (e.g. posting a poll on which campaign you should focus on) and linking to blogs, Youtube videos and news pieces that keep interest in your group high.
Interact with other pages. For example, are there local community groups on Facebook who might be interested in a campaign you may be running on local democracy? Let them know by posting a link on their wall with an explanation of your campaign.
Ignore comments or likes on your wall or posts. People are showing that they appreciate what you are posting. If they post questions, try to answer them. If they like your posts, thank them for liking. If you don’t, you run the risk of people not commenting on your posts anymore!
Constantly update your status. As status updates have a longer shelf life than tweets, there is no need to constantly update your status or post things every hour. Too much posting will annoy people and they will probably unlike your page. Lunchtimes and evenings are the best times to post updates as these are when more people are likely to be on Facebook; otherwise your posts might get lost in their news feed.
Twitter is a micro-blogging site. This means that instead of writing a long note, each post is limited to 140 characters, so you have to be concise and to the point with what you want to say. The aim of Twitter is to follow people with the same interests as you and chat with them. So the more people you follow, the more comments you see posted and the more you can engage with.
Twitter updates contain less information (140 characters) but short messages are much more easily absorbed than a long email or Facebook update. You should open a Twitter account for your group (for example: @Brum4Democracy) and then have your members follow it and retweet tweets. Make sure to let Unlock Democracy know about the account (tweet at us!) as we can follow and retweet your events to a wider audience.
Twitter is perhaps far more useful as a promotional tool and an interaction medium than as an organisational tool. Not only can you let all of your ‘followers’ know about your event/blog post/article but through Re-Tweets they can let their followers know about it too. Some tweets can be retweeted hundreds of times, reaching thousands of people both locally and nationally.
Here are some dos and don’ts for Twitter:
Post regular tweets with engaging content. A few good tweets at the right time of day (as with Facebook, try to post at lunchtime or evenings – although many people are on Twitter most of the day) can be more effective than posting lots of tweets all day.
Be friendly! People are far more likely to engage with your campaign/group if you interact with them, answer questions and engage.
Listen to what people are saying. Twitter is a two-way medium; for example, commenting on the unfairness of a local election result when a local paper tweets about it, or responding to a tweet about a national or local issue. In essence, try to give people the sense that you aren’t just there to promote your campaign but to have a conversation.
Ask for retweets from well-known local/national tweeters. If your friends have lots of followers ask them to link to your Twitter account, or tweet at local supportive politicians/celebrities and ask them to link to your account.
Spam people. If you consistently post the same sort of content without engaging, people may lose interest in your account.
Use link or URL shorteners. Try to post full links to websites; people are more likely to click on the link if they know where they are going. Twitter now automatically shortens links so you don’t need to worry about using up too many of your 140 characters!