Yesterday, I mentioned the seeming lack of understanding by Arkansas candidates on how to implement a coherent social media strategy. As luck would have it, Patrick Kennedy posted a Facebook note touching (somewhat) on this issue yesterday as well.
Sadly, even the guy who was featured in CNN regarding his usage of Foursquare and the like misses the forest for the trees (or whatever the online equivalent of that cliche is).
Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” What we’re seeing with social media tools like Twitter and Foursquare, is that all content — if it’s relevant to the end-user — is local. Traditional campaigns are driven by the 3 Ms: Money, Message, and Mobilization. By no means would I call my campaign traditional, but these tools are powerful compliments to the fundamentals. (I’ve even had people donate money to my campaign because they thought it was cool I was using Foursquare.)
It’s incredibly important to me that I engaged with voters in an authentic way. Most candidates delegate their tweeting and Facebook to staffers — it’s incredibly impersonal. What they don’t get — and it’s something Michael Arrington alluded to yesterday — is that social media is slowly dismantling the 4th estate: the historic ability for PR flacks to “control the message” will be supplanted by a more honest discourse. It is this type of modernization and adaptation that is necessary for our country’s progress. It might take some getting used to, and some late-adopters losing their seats, but it’s a positive shift that will strengthen our democracy.
Engaging with voters in an authentic way is a fantastic idea. But trying to maintain all of your social media outlets personally is not the way to go about such things. (I’m ignoring for a moment the fact that, by definition, a general Tweet or FB status about an upcoming event is going to be incredibly impersonal.) In fact, that approach really has no bearing whatsoever on whether a candidate is engaging in an “authentic” way.
The benefit of social media is not in being named “Mayor” of something on Foursqaure or about liking someone’s link or status on a Facebook page. It is about reaching more voters, plain and simple. Put it this way, when looking at a tweet from Kennedy or any other politician, do you really think a voter can tell which of these was written by the candidate and which was not?
- “Thanks to all of our supporters for making this first filing period a success. We are going strong into the Primary.”
- “Enjoying mtg with Democratic women from around the state at Oaklawn.”
- “[Candidate] is excited to announce that our campaign headquarters is now open at [address]!”
- “Having a great time hunting Easter eggs with my family at Excell Park in Jacksonville. Beautiful day in Central Arkansas.”
- “A big shoutout to the volunteers and staff. I couldn’t be having more fun.”
It would not surprise me if all of these were written by someone other than the candidate, nor would I be shocked to learn that none of them were. But — and here’s the important part — in the end, who wrote the tweets doesn’t matter. What matters is that the tweets work in conjunction with Facebook and whatever other social media the candidate is using. (For the record, in order, the example tweets were Robbie Wills, John Adams, Joyce Elliott, David Boling, and Kennedy.)
If a candidate wants to engage voters in an authentic way, his or her focus should be presenting a message that “comes from the heart” (for lack of a better term) and reaches voters. Social media merely provides another avenue to reach them.
Somewhat ironically, given Kennedy’s status as the most visible early adopter in the race, to the extent that the other candidates delegate maintaining their social media presence to a staffer, they “get it” better than Kennedy does at the moment. All of them appear somewhat clueless when it comes to creating a coherent strategy across social media platforms, but at least those candidates who have delegated the mundane-but-important task of updating Facebook or tweeting multiple times per day about a candidate’s positions or upcoming appearances have recognized that their time is better spent elsewhere.