Opinion: social media priorities

The last article I wrote conjoured up a utopian vision of Liberal Democrat e-campaigning. However, it might not be a realistic aim for individuals or groups who lack social media expertise, or time, to develop a fully fledged social media presence. How, then, should Liberal Democrats prioritise the different elements of social media?

The first choice is an absolute no-brainer. If you do nothing else, start a Facebook page. Don’t mistake a Facebook ‘group’ for a Facebook ‘page’. Though they share some features, they are different beasts. A local Party group should have an ‘official’ Facebook page. Individuals may use a personal account initially, but you should consider using a Facebook page for public campaigning and having a separate – personal – Facebook account.

But why?

In the UK alone, Facebook has over 27 million users. That’s a huge audience from the outset and you can bet that local to you will be a wide range of Facebook users. An investigation into the demographics of Facebook users would be an article in it’s own right. Suffice it to say that Liberal Democrats should be piggy-backing the Facebook platform as a matter of course.

Facebook allows you to produce a ‘badge’ which can be displayed on your own website and which – in the absence of a dedicated Twitter feed – can be used to update your current ‘status’ and draw people from your website to like your Facebook page. Your specific aim with Facebook is to get as many people to ‘like’ your page as possible, so that when you post a status update, all the people who ‘liked’ your page will see that update and be reminded that you exist at all.

Twitter should be second on the priority list. Whilst it has far fewer people using it than Facebook, like the Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government, Twitter users punch above their weight and they are exactly the people you need to be reaching.

Studies show that Twitter users are on average more active politically and socially. They are more likely to write their own blog. They are more likely to have been published. They are more likely to have commented on other blogs or on Internet forums, and they are more likely to participate in politics.

In short, Twitter users are at the avant-garde of public opinion.

If you are posting your messages to the Twitterati, you are increasing the chances that opinion leaders in the UK will, in their turn, broadcast your message to their social groups through the variety of tools and channels at their disposal. That’s the closest thing to free publicity you can get.

But actually, Twitter is more sophisticated than that. Twitter accounts double as “listening posts”. Use a tool like Tweetdeck to monitor your local hashtags, or for mentions of your name, or issues in which you pay a particular interest.

On Twitter, perhaps more so than Facebook, it is important to monitor what others are saying – be they political competitors or colleagues, what they say matters one way or another. You should participate actively in Twitter, both giving your opinion and passing on the opinions of others.

Twitter appears to appeal to a particularly liberal demographic – a point in part proven by the refusal of David Cameron to use the service and his now infamous labelling of Twitter users as “twats”. This should play into our hands. If Liberal Democrat views can dominate the Twitterverse this could well play a substantial role in campaigns going forward.

Next comes Flickr, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to use. Just start an account and upload your pictures. Yes, there is a social element to it in that people can comment on your images, but using it as a glorified photo album is fine and reduces the strain on your own website. You might also consider licensing others to use your images under Creative Commons.

Finally, YouTube. It is not essential to regularly update a YouTube account, though you should at least start one without advertising it in order to protect your preferred user name. It is time and resource intensive to produce videos, though going that extra mile could tilt the balance ever-so-slightly in your favour. If you can, make a YouTube video for particularly noteworthy events – such as in the run up to an election.

Keep in mind the frequency with which you use each social media tool. Take 10 minutes to check your Facebook and Twitter accounts and participate in those communities on a daily basis. Use Flickr whenever you have some interesting images. YouTube can be used sparingly unless you plan to post a video blog on a regular basis. Anyone remember webcameron?

All in all, if you can run an e-Campaign, try to cover as many of the social media bases that you can. A lot of social media activity can be done quite quickly and easily. Updating your Facebook or Twitter status and catching up on messages need not be too time consuming if you integrate it into other activities like updating your website.

Social media is not a campaigning panacea. It does not give you an excuse to forget the offline staples of campaigning. But, if used correctly and consistently, it will give an extra edge to your campaign and pay real dividends at the ballot box.

Jason Mehmet is a Liberal Democrat activist in Reading and runs a web design, development and hosting company that specialises in helping political activists and organisations

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This entry was posted in Online politics and Op-eds.
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One Comment

  • Twitter, Youtube and Flickr are good, Facebook has the numbers but also has an awful attitude to privacy and it won’t end well.

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