As we head into three years of elections, I thought I’d share some advice with politicians and political parties on how to effectively use social media. There’s been some debate as to how influential social media has been in affecting political opinion and elections in Northern Ireland, but even so, if parties are going to use it, they should at least do it well.

I’ll be writing a few posts over the next couple weeks exploring tactics, strategy, and effectiveness. My focus will generally be Twitter and Facebook, but I’ll be looking at other platforms as well.

Today we’ll begin with the first key principle of social media: social media is social. Don’t be stiff, don’t be distant, and don’t disappear. In all you do, encourage participation and engagement. This will lead to trust and long term relationships. If you’re a public personality, don’t live an entirely private life. Share your values, opinions and passions often. And above all, be human.

Crafting messages and content for sharing

Craft messages in a way that compel people to want to share them. When people share your message, they bring your ideas into their own networks, expanding your ability to influence public opinion and win over voters. People retweet when they feel a connection—or a revulsion—with a message. So avoid being boring.

If you want people to read and share a blog or press-release link, come to Twitter with the intention to connect with people at an emotional level. Twitter and Facebook messages should be written in a friendly, informal way. Messages should be crafted to elicit emotion—anger, happiness, empathy, hope. Probably the easiest thing to overlook in a Twitter feed is a short statement with a link to a press release. So make your values implicit and communicate to connect emotionally. That way you will elicit response.

Unfortunately, too many political parties and politicians in Northern Ireland think they need to sound official. They hide emotion in an attempt to seem important. But on social media, such coldness communicates a lack of confidence with the platform (I’m so tempted to write in an example here). Stick with punchy, friendly statements to elicit hope. Throw in a bit of righteous anger occasionally to encourage action. Share funny pictures with your family dog to show you’re normal. But, at all costs, avoid blandness.

Engagement builds loyalty and relationships

The most important rule with social media is to be social. Remember, learning the technology doesn’t mean you’ve mastered the platform. Far too many politicians in Northern Ireland start up Twitter accounts, pump out a few press releases, and abandon the platform after an election. Over the last year, this has changed, but it’s still too common. I won’t directly name people, but start searching for MLAs on Twitter. There are still a few carcass accounts—with no tweets at all or no tweets in more than a year.

Dr. Pamela Rutledge at the Media Psychology Research Center suggests that “an effective social media campaign is based on the psychology of social behaviors not the current technology.” People come to Twitter to feel a sense of their own political agency. Politicians can do a lot to affirm this sense of agency by simply engaging with people that tweet at them. Companies such as Aer Lingus have figured out that tweeting people back, addressing concerns and issues, and using first names builds relationships and long-term loyalty. Our politicians need to learn to do the same.

On that point, here’s a good Twitter rule for retweet requests. If an organisation for a well-supported cause asks for a retweet, don’t just stop there. Quote the tweet and add your own touch, or retweet and follow up with a personal message. Not only will you win the support of the organisation and its followers, you have an opportunity to demonstrate support for and be associated with a popular cause—child poverty, mental health, etc.

Finally, don’t think social media influence stops online. As marketing experts tell us, social media is part of a larger sphere of influence. Buzz can begin with social media engagement, but it culminates in word-of-mouth advocacy. Win one person over online, you might bring in their friends, family members and work colleagues.

Next time, we’ll be exploring how to build the bridge from social media to social gathering.

2 thoughts on “Social Media Advice for Northern Ireland Politicians

  1. Great article! Most politicians haven’t figured out that they are, in fact, brands and that brand meaning exists in the consumer’s (or voter’s) brain. Do you think it’s because politicians think of themselves as ‘in power’ that they have trouble making this shift? (Thanks for the quote, btw).

    • Hey, thanks for the comment! Really loved your “How Obama Won the Social Media Battle” article. Excellent advice. We’ll have to get you over to Northern Ireland one day to give a seminar. I’ve been chatting with people locally about this. There is a noticeable lack of branding fundamentals in local politics. For example, very few of our local parties have online values propositions. I think this leaves a lot of voters confused. We need to convince people that thinking through the lens of branding actually provides an opportunity to clarify values and goals. Anyway, best wishes!

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