Using Social Media to Engage Voters

Reading Time: 9 minutes
He got social media right. You can too!

 

Communities across BC are currently ramping up for municipal election day, November 19th, this year. The last municipal elections occurred three years ago and a lot has changed since then. During the last election cycle social media was for early adopters. Yes, lots of people were on Facebook and some were even using Twitter but for the most part, and especially in small town BC, social media was for the more geekishly inclined. This year things have changed a bit.

Social media has creeped onto the computer and mobiles phones of people all around the world and BC is no exception. Those that have not fully embraced Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn or a host of less well known social platforms are still using the internet to find out about local goings on. I don’t have up to date stats on this but I do know that all of the local traditional media here in my city, Chilliwack, have a web and social media presence and I trust that they are doing this because they have the stats 🙂 In other words I don’t think traditional media is engaging online just for kicks.

So, what are local political incumbents and hopefuls to do? Well, they ought to be seriously thinking about how they will reach voters and the fact that a lot of voters may be looking for them online. Locally we have a few folks running for council and school board seats who are already fully present in the online spaces (shout out to Jason Lum in Chilliwack) that constituents frequent. Unfortunately the vast majority are either completely absent or, because it is all so new to them (there is a learning curve) they are doing things that may actually harm their campaigns.

To try and help with this I’ve created this short guide to Surviving a Campaign in Social Media World just for those running for city council or school board seats. Please understand this is due in part to my own laziness. I do not want to hunt down each candidate to assess their vote-worthiness nor do I want to go to multiple all-candidates meetings and sit through responses to questions about issues that I’m not really invested in put forth by candidates that I already know I’m not going to vote for. I want to hear the views and opinions of the the folks that I’m undecided about and I want to find out specifically what their thinking is on issues that I’m passionate about.

Idea 1. Get a website.

If you are website savvy you already have one so this is for those who are not able to create, launch and administer their own website.

Option 1 – Simplest way to go – Go to WordPress.com and follow the instructions. If you can’t follow the instructions you will never survive city hall.. seriously, setting up a socially optimized website on WordPress.com is way easier than anything you will be asked to do on behalf of your city. I’m suggesting this route because you can do it for free, in one afternoon and because in one click you can add all your other social media links to it. Your website is a hub, everything ought to link to it including your print media.. but more on that later.

Option 2 – Go to some place like HostPapa and with one or two clicks of your mouse you can register your own domain like voteforjohnsmith.com or .ca and get a WordPress site hosted for under a 100 bux. This is a little trickier but I’m suggesting HostPapa because that are Canadian (eh) and they are green. What that means exactly.. I’m not sure.. but green never hurts a campaign. Plus they have lots of how-to videos. This option again is a bit more complicated and after you get your domain registered and hosting set up you will have to wait a day or two to be able to fully access your account and install WordPress. Once that’s done you will need to get your WordPress site created which isn’t overly difficult but because this option gives you more.. options.. it will be more time consuming. If you have a family member or campaign supporter who is familiar with WordPress or just really interested in it, buy them lots of really good coffee and let them do it for you 🙂

If you opt for the latter you now own a piece of internet real estate so if you have a fairly unique name you might want to use your name as the domain name. I was lucky and managed to get my name across multiple platforms early on. Once you have your domain, especially if it’s your name and not election specific, you can re-purpose or reuse the domain for the rest of your life, or for as long as you keep it registered. If you opt for the WordPress.com route you can, by adding a few extra steps, also use you own domain.

The set up for a WordPress site is pretty easy and there are thousands of free and paid temples to choose from. If this is new to you, use a simple theme like TwentyTen, TwentyEleven or Graphene (this site uses the  Graphene Theme). I would stick to a basic one column with one sidebar layout. “Home” will hold your blog which you should post to daily. What better way to get you views known than by a short post each day that perhaps answers a question someone asked you or highlights an issue you’re passionate about. Make sure comments are enabled but you should moderate them before approving them or get your kids or one of your supporters to do that for you 🙂 For pages you might want an “About” page where you can, if you want, just upload your static flyer or you can do something different. You might want to include your LinkedIn profile if you have one so people can see you in a professional context. Other pages can be “Contact”, “Issues”, “Donate”. Really whatever you want.

Option 3. Use Posterous, a ridiculously simple way to create a web presence that integrates with your other social media platforms and can even be a great addition to an existing website. It doesn’t  have the page options you find in WordPress or traditional websites but with it’s simplicity, easy of posting, even from your phone, and built in social sharing it’s a great choice for those who just want to get something up quick and don’t want to navigate the WordPress learning curve.

Option 4 – Forgo the website all together and set up a great Facebook page. Not as versatile as a website but better a great Facebook page than nothing. Personally I find WordPress easier to work with than Facebook but for some this could be a way to go.  Notice we are talking Page here and not account. I don’t want to Friend you to find out about your platform. I do want to see your Page, I may Like it, I may not and either way I can follow it to see what your up to and maybe ask you a question or two. See Idea 2 for more on Facebook.

Option 5 – Static webpage or site. One thing you probably don’t want to do is spend time and possibly some money setting up a static website that is not optimized for social interactions. I’ve seen a few of these popping up and they are a little frustrating. Really all they are is a way to plaster a flyer on a computer screens. A computer has way more opportunities for interactions than a car windshield so keep the flyers for mailboxes and cars. People want to get to know you so give them  a chance to.

Idea 2. Create a Facebook Page

If you have a Facebook account you can set up in a Page in jiffy. Don’t worry about fancy landing pages, those are for marketers and those that want/need to build a contact list or increase their conversion rate. You are in a very short municipal race, you don’t have time to do this well unless of course it’s what you do for a living or you have a relative that will do it for you. Here’s a great tutorial on how to create a Facebook Page. Pay special attention to the privacy setting because unlike your personal profile you want this to be as public as possible and you probably do want to be shown as the Page owner. Once you have your Page set up let everyone know about it. Add it to your website, your email signature and of course your print media should have all your digital identities displayed prominently. You want to get as many people to Like your Page as possible. The reality is that the more people Like your page the more people will Like your Page.  So, like, what I’m trying to say is, Social Proof is a powerful thing.

Facebook convention is to post 1-3 times a day at most. More than that and folks tend to get a bit peeved.  Facebook is a great place to pose question to constituents, engage in conversations about issues, post videos of you talking about your vision, provide notices about upcoming events and of course you’ll want to point people back to your website for more information. The advantage of Facebook is that you can have a conversation with people where they are… Cos lots of people spend a lot of time on Facebook.

Idea 3. Tweet

Twitter is a micro-blogging platform where you can promote yourself, your website, your Facebook page and your issues using 140 characters or less. Setting up a Twitter profile is quick and easy. Just go to Twitter and follow the steps to sign up. Use your own name if possible and if not use something that makes you recognizable. Make sure you complete your bio and at least change the default background to one of the other ones available. Best practice is to create a custom background and here’s a great HubSpot tutorial on that.

Now add a Twitter “Follow Me” link you your other online spaces. The key with Twitter is to follow people who are interested in the same things as you are AND engage them in conversations. In this case we are talking local election so search for your city name first and save that search so that you can easily find out what locals are tweeting about. You might also want to use something like Twellow (like the yellow pages for Twitter) to find the twitterati  are in your area and follow them. For more ways to do this see Mashable’s list of 9 ways to find people on Twitter.  Most will follow you back and if they like you and what you are saying they will retweet (RT) your tweets helping spread the word to the folks in their network. Twitter is a pretty friendly place so you can always ask people for help. I can’t count the number of times people on Twitter have helped me do things I was struggling with.

You might also want to find the local news folks in your area as most, if not all, at this point have a Twitter presence. Newspapers, radio stations along with individuals who work in traditional media frequent the twitterspere. In additon you will want to find out if there is a hashtag – # – that has been declared for the election in your area. In Chilliwack it’s #chwkmuni11, in Maple Ridge it #ElectMR. By adding these to your tweets along with your city name #Chilliwack or #MapleRidge for example,  helps people find tweets that relate to their local election.

Twitter users can tolerate a lot more tweets in a day than Facebook users. The Twitter stream is quick so in fact if you only tweet once or twice a day you will probably get drown out by the swift current of conversation there. To help manage this you can use Twitter clients like Hootsuite, Timely.is or Buffer to schedule some of your tweets in advance. This isn’t cheating, it’s good sound Twitter strategy. You can also use applications like Roost to schedule an entire campaign of Tweets but I find that the simpler ones like Timely.is are more than robust enough for most uses. By scheduling in advance you can focus on just replying to tweets and engaging with local folks.

Some notes on crafting a tweet. If you begin a tweet with @whomever the tweet is not viewable by everyone. Best format for a tweet is something like:

Thanks @soandso for RTing (short link to site here). I’m always up for chatting about #chwkmuni11 #Chilliwack

Notice there are 30 characters remaining so others can easily RT without editing.  Whatever you do make sure your tweets are interesting and useful and as much as its a good idea to tweet often don’t flood the stream with multiple tweets in a row. For a fuller explanation of Twitter ins and out check out this great tutorial by the folks at Squidoo.

Idea 4. Connect, Communicate, Converse – Rinse, lather, repeat…

There are lots of other things you can  do.

  • Create a YouTube Channel and use a smart phone to record and post quick snippets of brilliance as they happen and then post the links to your site and other social media.
  • Use  QR Codes on all your print media that links to a mobile friendly site or video.
  • Use Foursquare to check-in when your at local businesses or tweet that you’re there, especially if they are on either/both and have a following.
  • Have a Twitter Chat or Facebook town meeting and invite other candidates and potential voters to join you in discussing the issues in your community online.
  • Livecast your events using something like Ustream or Justin.tv.
  • Publish a paper.li, Twylah or Scoop.it about yourself, your town and your issues. (Don’t be scared off by beta or get an invite notices as these come through pretty quickly)

Whatever you do get out out there and connect with people where they are. If they are online a lot then that’s where you need to be. If you are a constituent comfortable on the web make sure you seek out and engage with your local political hopefuls and school board candidates and of course  get out and VOTE on November 19th. If you need more information on voting check out the BC Voters Guide.

Check out Vicki McLeod’s great post #ElectMR – Candidates and Social Media Cos she couldn’t resist… either…

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *