Using Social Media to Rally Support for Politicians

in Digital Marketing Strategy & Trends | by Ethan Lyon

“Politics is about conversation, and personal, face-to-face interaction is still the foundation of that, especially at the local level… broadening my overall efforts to engage with the community I represent,” writes NY State Assemblyman Micah Kellner (D) to Mashable. To advance the conversation and mobilize community support, social media is becoming a staple of the political tool box. Facebook, Twitter and other social networks reinforce political messages and fuel offline support. Though Facebook and Twitter have seen several political seasons, emerging social networks, such as FourSquare, are only now beginning to make in-roads into politics.

Each social network requires a different strategic approach. “What I try to do, both internally and when working with others on using social media is to talk about the need or communication gap first, then figure out which tools best fill that need or gap,” says Brad Blake, Massachusetts (D) Governor Deval Patrick’s Director of New Media and Online Strategy. Indeed, social media strategy should be tailored to each political campaign. However, most social networks have distinct benefits. For instance, FourSquare creates real-world impact through a blend of mobile social networking and gaming, Twitter is a reactive, real-time medium, YouTube broadcasts messages directly and Facebook is about personal, face-to-face community interaction (figuratively speaking, of course).

FourSquare – Tech-savvy politicians are “checking into” the rapidly growing social platform, FourSquare. Using FourSquare’s location-based social network, politicians can translate online influence into real-world support and connection (i.e. rallies and “meet-ups”). Patrick Kennedy, who is currently running for Congress as a Democrat from Arkansas, is enhancing his grass roots campaign through FourSquare, among other social media. Kennedy regularly “checks in” when visiting constituencies, giving supporters the ability to stop by and meet with him.

For instance, Kennedy “checks in,” saying “Meeting Chief Kirk Lane (@ Benton Police Dept)” and an hour later, he’s “Getting ready to meet with County Judge Lanny Fite. (@ Saline County Courthouse).” Kennedy said to CNN, “I do not have any personal finances so [I] have to be more creative in outreach to communities and constituencies. Social media, if used creatively, can do just as an effective job.” And FourSquare is a creative way to let your constituencies know where they can find you.

Twitter – For most politicians, Twitter is a link aggregator to events and favorable news stories. For others, like the Florida Senator Bill Nelson, Twitter enables them to react to events and talk from the heart, so-to-speak. Nelson tweets about relevant, current events, “Saddened by Dorothy Height’s passing – she certainly left her mark in America’s history as a pioneer of civil rights,” while showing his dedication to constituencies: “This oil spill is our worst nightmare come true. I’m asking for investigation of lobbying on safety rules by Big Oil.” Nelson and other politicians demonstrate an ability to carry on a real time political narrative.

YouTube – Though San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is known for his Facebook presence, his YouTube channel is a brightspot among his counterparts. Gavin uses YouTube as a direct channel to speak regularly (about once a week) to his constituencies on up-to-date issues. Based on Gavin’s balance between professionalism and accessibility, the SF mayor clearly understands YouTube as a platform to “get personal” and with users. For instance, Newsom posted a video of him signing legislation that promotes the social values of SF and explains why it’s important to him and his constituencies.

Facebook – Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are the top two political heavyweights on Facebook. Is John McCain or Facebook darling San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom number three? Nope, try Manuel “Manny” Villar, a Philipine Senator and president of the Nacionalista Party. With 1.4 million supporters, Manny has taken Facebook by storm. He provides frequent updates and fact-checks to squelch opposition gossip. He also promotes loyal fans by re-posting favorable videos. Considering each update receives around 800 comments, it’s a big feather in your cap to show your loyalty.

For politicians, social media is a communications tool that should be in most, if not all, political media strategies. It is a way for politicians to carry on a real time narrative directly with their constituencies, particularly the younger generation, at an affordable cost. Facebook and YouTube enable politicians to continue their political narrative in a highly personal way, while Twitter and FourSquare give users information to mobilize and show support at rallies and other meetups. As the next political season approaches in several months, we’re excited to see how social media (particularly FourSquare) will be utilized to generate support online and off.

Read the 2010 social media report: