Here’s To Making It Count

In social media, authenticity and engagement reign supreme.

Given this, it’s quite surprising that so many politicians, specifically mayoral hopefuls, are willing to pass off their social media ventures to staffers.

In a blog post about Rob Ford’s latest social media venture (a YouTube video depicting the ‘party’ at City Hall), the Toronto Star brought up a valid point:

|   “…given that authenticity is considered a primary currency of social media, and that Ford carries a not-so-smart flip phone and doesn’t send out his own tweets or Facebook posts, it will be interesting to see what impact the work garners”.  |

Are politicians selling us short?

When choosing to follow a public figure, most people are hoping to glean that little bit of insight, that inside information, about the person’s life.  When they click a link posted by the person, there is a certain cache to saying, “Oh, I heard about this from [insert celebrity/politician name here].  Even more exciting to a follower is when that elusive individual picks their tweet over all the others to respond to, re-tweets a post, or follows them back (Andrew Coyne followed me back today, officially a highlight).

When that interaction is coming from a staffer, it just doesn’t feel the same.  We feel cheated, lied to, ignored.  Authenticity, personality, and opinion, combined with engagement, are what we expect from social media.

Now, that’s not to say the average user doesn’t expect some of this information to come from the campaign team.  We do, after all, expect that our elected (or hoping to be elected) officials are too busy to tweet or update their Facebook walls.  We understand that there’s no point to having staffers if they don’t perform mundane tasks like linking to your website or posting photos of your latest ‘mayorathon’ stop.

What worries us is when so-called ‘social media experts’ on your staff are too afraid to have you tweet for yourself.

Social media offers a rare opportunity for politicians to relay a message in a place where all citizens are able to comment and engage.  In 140 characters and with a thirty second time investment, a politician can respond to a citizen, share an opinion, make a difference.  Just last week Mayor Miller scored a great PR coup when he responded to a wheelchair-bound citizen stuck in his high-rise office building during the downtown Toronto power outage (see the story here) . That one tweet, followed up by a phone call, renewed the citizen’s faith in politics and showed him that his mayor really did care about him (For the record, I’m told Miller tweets for himself).  It also showed that social media matters.

So, where do we go from here? Well, how about a little bit of free PR/social media advice from an advocate like me.

  1. Politicians – tweet for yourself. Really. The journalists do it all the time and they haven’t spontaneously combusted (see: @acoyne @RosieBarton @gmacofglebe @kady @SusanDelacourt @davidakin for some prime examples of engagement & sharing) and so do some of your friends (I’m told @TonyClementMP @MPJamesMoore @oliviachow tweet for themselves).
  2. Break the rules.  While a general rule of thumb is not to overshare on Twitter, people want to know that you’re normal, too.  Having a rough day?  See something silly on the street? Did your kid say something funny? Tweet about it (But not too much).
  3. PR teams – unmuzzle your candidates! We want to hear what they think.  That’s why we’re electing them – for their ideas.  As one respondent to my Twitter query said, “Opinions & personality! It’s nice to see something outside of the news and their Parliament Hill persona” (@AmandaBurculPR)
  4. Interact.  Even if it’s just a few messages a day, the people sending you messages or commenting on something you’ve done probably want to hear back.  It’s the backbone of social media and necessary for success.
  5. Find a happy medium.  We all know Rob Ford doesn’t tweet for himself and Rocco Rossi allegedly does.  Either way, though, their teams are doing a lot of work.  While Rossi is being heralded as the “king of social media”, it’s important to note that it’s because his team is all over that Twitter thing.  It’s great that your team is involved in your online presence under their own names (authenticity is great there, too), but it seems pretty fake when 95% of their tweets are RT’s for the campaign or all about you.  Take it down a notch.
  6. Social media isn’t just about Twitter.  It would be great to see candidates responding themselves on Facebook as well.  You don’t have to respond to every message, but try to answer a few yourself here and there.  People like that.
  7. Have a policy on your Facebook page and stick to it.  You may not be able to control what people say about you on Twitter, but you should certainly try to keep things family friendly on Facebook.  People tend to hate it when you delete their wall posts and comments on Facebook, but sometimes what they are saying is just plain terrible (I spotted a rape analogy on Rob Ford’s wall yesterday from a non-supporter – not the best way to get your opinion across, friend.).  When you have a policy that states any inappropriate language or things not suitable for audiences of all ages will be removed, people don’t feel personally attacked when you delete such things.  They expect it.

In the end, one thing is clear.  Don’t discredit the benefit of social media.  Sure, you may only be reaching out to a small percentage of the population, but the kind of relationship you have with them will extend to everyone else.  People active on social media, be it influencers or journalists, love to talk.  Good or bad, they’ll be pushing your message on everyone they interact with.  Here’s to making it count.

PS. Thanks to everyone who sent in their feedback about politicians who tweet! I really appreciate the discussion, debate, and help.