A Politician’s Quick And Dirty Guide To Social Media

July 22, 2011 / 12:44 am • By Dr. Melissa Clouthier

Social Media: At least you don’t have to touch people

Google added it’s new social network to the interwebs two weeks ago and I considered writing a post that addresses only Google Plus. Then, I reconsidered. Google + needs to be talked about in the context of everything else out there.

First, a couple overarching principles for every social network:

1. Don’t be a jerk. It should go without saying, and yet…
2. Pretend you’re talking to a person face to face.
3. Nothing can ever be taken back ever. It’s the internet.

One big mistake politicians make is ignoring social media entirely.
A good politician will recognize that most public relations now is done through social media. That is, communication from the pol to his constituents happens on a much greater scale and more quickly and directly via social media. Yes, phone calls, hand shakes and kissing babies still matters and it matters a lot. But the fact is, politics is a lot like church: most folks hear the pastor give the sermon and never interact with him. There are a few true believers in the Amen Pew and they talk to everyone. Social media reaches the Amen Pew. Why wouldn’t a politician have a communications strategy for these true believers (and skeptics)? It’s really short-sighted and yet, many politicians still regulate their social media staff to an after-thought.

Here’s the perspective you should have on Social Media from Gary Vaynerchuk:

My suggestion? Integrate social media with communications. In fact, a comms director who is social media ignorant shouldn’t be a communications director. In the political space, a comms director who doesn’t know the major new media players like bloggers (at whatever level the politician is at) shouldn’t be employed, either.

Social media and new media relations isn’t magical, but it requires work just like it requires work to form relationships with journalists. The lines are blurring and journalism has become more democratic and diverse. A blog can be far more influential to the type of people a politician wants to reach to influence who will then influence the people he wants influenced.

Now, to the social networks.

FACEBOOK
I’m starting with Facebook because right now, it’s the juggernaut. Here’s a couple of rules.

1. Only follow close personal friends and family on your Facebook account.
This is yours. If you’re not into social media, don’t sweat it. Just don’t do it. There is no harm to not having a personal Facebook account. (This will cause some social media folks to howl, by the way, but my rationale is this: there are so many other social networks with which to engage people. A politician needs to have his real life too. Keep your FB account that life.)

2. Set up a public page aka Fan Page.
If you want this to grow, you have to feed it. Facebook pages are not magical wonderlands where followers just sprout out of nothing. Even the biggest named person has to give something to get something. The Fan Page is a good place to put ALL press releases. It is a good place to get feedback on certain pieces of legislation. It’s a good place to explain your rationale for a decision you’ve made.

3. Interact there.
Facebook has some nice tools for social engagement. You can create events there and schedule them that will invite your fans. You can do nice targeted advertising. You can have more inclusive and cohesive conversations then say Twitter.

All this said, Facebook is my least favorite social media application. Why? They don’t let you easily export your data. It’s clunky. But everyone is there.

Good example on Facebook: Sarah Palin.

TWITTER

1. Be honest about your account.
That is, if you have your own Twitter account, fine, but run it yourself. Don’t know about Twitter and don’t care? That’s okay. A Twitter account can be run by your comms director or whomever you trust, but make clear that the account is being run by that person … or a person other than you. You can also name the account @JoePoliticsNews or some such. That way, people know it’s about you but not necessary from you.

Governor Rick Perry of Texas, for example, has a bunch of accounts. His staff runs one. He has his personal account (puppies!). And there’s an election news one, etc. If you don’t know about Twitter, or are a communications person, follow his accounts to get a feel for how a major politician can use Twitter to interact.

Another example is Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey. He interacts. So does Representative Thad McCotter of Michigan. These guys use Twitter and talk to their constituents and anyone else who will listen. There are quite a few pols who do this well.

2. Either follow everyone or follow no one.
Either follow the world (highly recommended) or follow no one. I strongly advise against following porn stars, hookers and underage girls. (You’d think some things don’t need to be spelled out and yet they do.) Twitter clients allow for lists so a politician or his staff can follow journalists and influencers without offending their constituents by not following them. So, my ultimate recommendation is to follow everyone. Just because you follow them all doesn’t mean you have to pay attention to them all. It’s just polite to be friendly.

3. There’s no wrong way to tweet. Oh wait, yes there is..
Here’s some guidelines: Be friendly and helpful but not overly personal. Boundary issues? Twitter is not for you. Be honest and engaging. Every once in a while get into conversations with folks. I’ve asked Representatives and Senators questions and Twitter gives them a good forum to give unspun answers. Sick of the media twisting your words or meaning? Well, judiciously use twitter to tell people what’s up. If you are inauthentic, Twitter will reveal you. It is a social medium. It is also a really good way to provide information and to be a news stream. Use it!

Bad example: Anthony Weiner. Don’t be that guy. Please. Spare us all.

Google +

Intro: You’re asking, What the heck is Google + and why should I care? Google + is a brand new social network created by Google (duh). It is a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook in some ways and a completely new thing in others. Like Twitter as many people as want to can follow you — millions even. Like Facebook, you’re limited about who you can follow to 5,000 people. In addition, of those 5K people, you can organize these folks into circles. Just like real life, Google + allows you put people into categories and interact with them (and only them, if desired) in those circles.

Why do I love Google + for Politicians?

1. Google + lets you tailor messages to the people you want to reach.
Want to tell the whole world about your new legislation? Make that a “Public” message. Want to share a message with key activists, donors, etc? Create circles for them and communicate with them. Want to send out a press release? Create a circle for the press (I have one of about 500 people right now, myself and include bloggers in that circle, fyi) and send the press release that way. And guess what? Those people can communicate back with you easily.

2. Google + allows for this new thing called “Hangouts”.
Hangouts are like a Skype conversation but for up to (for now) 9 people. I say for now, because a business version of Google + is coming out and I’ll bet that they allow dozens if not hundreds of people on a Hangout. We’ll see. But for now, Hangouts would be a wonderful way for a politician to meet with his constituents without leaving the comfort of his office or home. You know those key activists you meet with weekly? How about having a Hangout? You know those donors in five different counties (states)? Meet in a Hangout. You know those key reporters who you want to talk to and don’t want to repeat yourself ten times? Have a Hangout and talk to them. Have a constituent group who is hopping mad about fill-in-the-blank and so much so you worry about your personal safety? Have a hangout and talk about it with people and be safe.

Details about a hangout. Google makes it so that whomever is talking has the camera on them. Anyone can share a YouTube. So, if you’re on the road and your campaign manager wants to show you the latest ad, he can. Links can be shared. The possibility for this tech and politicians is endless.

Here is Michael Dell in a Hangout. He plans to use them for customer service:

3. Google + allows for a great way to share extended thoughts.
More extensive than Twitter. Less static than Facebook. More privacy controls than all of the above. Google + has less limits and yet more controls. This is essential. Newt Gingrich has already had a hangout on Google +. Other politicians are jumping on and trying it out. Early adoption celebrities (who face many of the same security and need-to-connect-with-the-public issues) are really enjoying the medium.

All in all, though it’s early, I feel that Google + has the most to offer politicians. The short coming? While Facebook has 750 million people on it (600 million check it monthly anyway) and Twitter has around 60 million active users, Google + has probably around 15 million … after two weeks. It took Facebook and Twitter years to get that many folks. I predict serious growth right now. Google has 193 million users monthly (as of last November). That’s a lot of people. And even more use Google to search.

Google + integrates with other shared services as well. Unfortunately most government folks cannot use many of these tools, but for real life users they’re valuable and make Google products sticky.

There are other social media too.

Foursquare: Foursquare and Gowalla are location-based social media and useful for politicians who want to tell people where they are.

LinkedIn: Businesses and job seekers use LinkedIn. It’s the mature social network for business types. I haven’t seen a lot of political uses for it other than networking and following people important in the business world.

Are shaking hands, knocking on doors, kissing babies and taking pictures important? Yes. Absolutely. They’re essential especially for lesser known politicians.

Can social media make a huge different in a politician’s scope of influence, connection to constituents, and control of the message? Yes. A million times yes.

Whereas social media was a catch phrase a couple years ago, it’s real life, now. Companies are very effectively using Twitter, for example, to do consumer outreach and conduct customer service. Celebrities are very effectively using Fan groups on Facebook to give followers special deals.

There are so many innovative ways to use social media and yet, at its fundamental level, social media is all about a politician’s stock in trade: influence and talking to people.

Educate yourself. Need some help and training? Worried that the “social media expert” is hosing you? Email me at melissa.clouthier at gmail.com or call me at 713-306-8867.

Social media is a really fun, direct way to communicate from the comfort of your home and jammies. Why more politicians don’t embrace it, I don’t know. But it is a natural fit for the politics business and the innovations that are coming along will make it even easier to be more efficient with your politicking.

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