Engagement is what sets social media apart from traditional one-way marketing. It gives us the power to connect with people around the world and do more than just push talking points – we can have meaningful conversations and influence opinions one by one. Unfortunately, this is an area many political candidates and elected officials don’t take full advantage of.
The following is another excerpt from All Politics Is Social explaining why engagement is important and how campaigns can use it, whether they’re encountering positive or negative feedback. The final section is from a personal interview with State Representative Jason Isaac, one of the many people I was privileged to talk personally with during the course of my research. He has a great story to share.
If there’s one thing social media experts agree on, it’s that engaging regularly and strategically is essential to an effective social media presence.
Engagement is when people respond to your content and when you respond back. It’s the result of your (hopefully awesome) content. Social media blogger Jason Falls describes the phenomenon quite simply:
Engagement is communicating well enough that the audience pays attention… The audience is paying so much attention they’re actually participating in the exchange of ideas as a result.[i]
And engagement isn’t some elusive ideal that’s impossible to reach. Social media users want to engage. Parmelee and Bichard conducted a study of Twitter users to determine their motivations for following political figures online. They write that “social utility” – having information to talk about, online or offline, with other people – was the top motivator, indicating that “followers are, indeed, interested in two-way communication sharing and dialogue.”[ii] Chances are, your supporters and future constituents are already out there. Not engaging is one of the biggest mistakes businesses, campaigns, and other organizations can make on social media.
You can sit around and wait for people to respond to your posts… or you can proactively encourage engagement. Ask questions. Poll your supporters on key issues. Ask them for a “like” or retweet. Little things can lead into big things, like getting them out to the polls.
Should I Reply to Users’ Posts?
Imagine you’re someone like me – a young adult sitting at the computer with a snack and a precious hour or two of free time. The elections are coming up, and I have a question about one of the candidates’ positions. So I send out a tweet or post on the candidate’s Facebook Page. It would be great if someone, perhaps a supporter, responded to let me know where Candidate X stood. Maybe I missed that page on the website, so they shoot me a link.
But it would be even better if the candidate him or herself responded.
A study conducted in 2011 found that 83 percent of social media users who received a reply after complaining about a company on Twitter “liked” or “loved” it.[iii] Even customers who are upset and adamant they’ll never use a particular brand again can be appeased by a rational, level-headed response. And the same goes for politics. People love knowing that their voices are heard.
Responding to other users’ posts, even if just to say thanks for their support, is definitely advisable. As Olivier Blanchard writes in Social Media ROI, “Loyalty, unlike awareness, takes time to develop,” Blanchard explains. “It finds its roots in the trust, familiarity, and respect that stem from frequent interactions.”[iv]
That’s what politics really comes down to: trust. One person entrusts another to speak on his or her behalf and represent his or her best interests. The best politicians on social media recognize the tenuousness of that relationship and put extra effort into their online presence – not just posting regular, interesting content, but actively engaging their followers, developing that relationship, and empowering their constituents to have a say in public policy.
What About Negative Posts?
If criticism is factually incorrect, you should definitely correct the poster. If not, consider a way to politely address the criticism. Granted, you can’t be expected to respond to every single post related to your campaign. But if someone posts something factually incorrect about you or asks a direct question about a policy stance, you miss a big opportunity by not responding.
The ability to monitor online mentions of a company name or particular product [or a political candidate] gives [you] the opportunity to respond to negative attitudes, clarify a position on an issue, invalidate false rumors, and separate myth from fact.[v]
Keeping track of what other people are saying about you online can help not only reinforce your message, but also quell controversies before they get out of control and adjust your messaging to suit the current climate.
Taking It Offline: State Representative Jason Isaac
Social media provides candidates the opportunity to combat criticism online – but it can also transition to in-person resolutions. State Representative Jason Isaac of HD 45 shared the story of a woman who consistently posted derogatory tweets about him. Instead of trying to argue her down online with minimal chance of success, he found out how to reach her and called her one morning from the House floor. She was shocked that an elected official a) had a hand in his social media and b) would take the time and initiative to ask what he could do to help. After a personal meeting over coffee, she still didn’t agree with some of his policies, but he took her concerns into consideration, they found common ground, and she even began tweeting supportive posts.
Makes you wonder how many of her followers and friends had a similar change of heart after hearing that story – and how many disputes or constituent problems could be resolved in a similar manner. Social media isn’t just a vehicle for communication – it can be a catalyst for personal connections and real-world problem solving.
[i] Falls, Jason. “Defining Engagement.” Social Media Explorer. 25 April 2012. Web. 27 June 2012.
[ii] Parmelee, John H. and Shannon L. Bichard. Politics and the Twitter Revolution: How Tweets Influence the Relationship between Political Leaders and the Public. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012. Print. 49-65.
[iii] Baer, Jay. “70% of Companies Ignore Customer Complaints on Twitter.” Convince and Convert. 12 October 2011. Web. 29 July 2012.
[iv] Blanchard, Olivier. Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. Indianapolis: Pearson Education, Inc., 2011. Print. 26.
[v] Blanchard, Olivier. Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. Indianapolis: Pearson Education, Inc., 2011. 23.