In the world of Social Media, one key component (THE key component) people usually miss out on is engagement. In politics, as in the business world, the element of human contact and communication is critical to success. Engagment and interaction builds relationships.
Many a business or poltical campaign has failed due to a “failure to connect”. That ‘connection’ is the engagement and relationship building that is often taken for-granted. People value supporting businesses or individuals they trust. We make ‘buying’ decisions (and voting decisions) based on trust built through engagement – either directly with a business or candidate, or indirectly through friends whose opinions we value.
Many of us new to the world of Social Media (and MANY businesses – even older, established ones) make the mistake of putting up a ‘page’, just to see how many “likes” or followers we get. We err in making our page a virtual ‘billboard’ where we try to ‘push’ messaging to potential customers or voters. We forget that Social Media is not the old-school ‘media’, but rather a conversation. A website or page is not “Social Media”. Social Media is actually the act of communicating in this new manner. The key is your discussions/conversations and engagement with your community.
In poltical terms you can imagine this in terms of two campaigns in the ‘old days’. One campaign does nothing but spend on mail pieces, phone “blasts” and newspaper ads… They barely knock a door. The other campaign goes to the doors early and often… (and not JUST during a campaign writ, when people think “here they come looking for votes again”), and asks questions about the voters’ concerns. They note those concerns and get back to those specific voters with specific answers with directed mail. They do this more than once… perhaps once pre-writ, and twice during the writ. People in the neighborhood tell their neighbors about the politician who came over “even though there is no election”. Who do you think wins? The fully engaged group who actually had a dialogue with voters, and reached out to all of them, or the ‘closet campaign’ where the campaign felt nothing was more important than just getting out their pure, untainted message, and engagement didn’t matter?
Voters and customers want to feel they matter. Not just ‘feel they matter’ – they SHOULD matter. If you reach out to them, engage them, and have a dialogue… they will respond by supporting you, becoming fans – even rabid ‘evangelists’ (and we LOVE Social Media Evangelists). You may fear that you’re opening yourself to ‘attacks’ by allowing a two-way conversation on your site/page, but the reality is, that conversation is happening with or without you. Much better to be a part of it, and at least be able to present your ‘case’.
So, where does one start on the way to proper ‘engagement’?
Reach out early. The confidence to “know” you’re going to be the nominated candidate – even if you’re not yet – will instill confidence in your supporters, and your audiences in various ‘interest groups’.
Reaching out to physical and online community groups of all types – cultural, social (food kitchens, care facilities, advocacy groups, etc.), political – and just listening is the first step. Have cards made up with your contact info – phone#, email, and social media contact info, and distribute them with the title ‘Candidate for Nomination’ (Riding Name).
Engaging these groups will do more for your party than siloing in limited political discussions, mostly within your own group. The Federal Conservatives scored victories over the past few elections with their tentacles in church and religious groups, right-wing social advocacy groups, crime-stopping/victim advocay groups, and tax-fighting groups. Those groups formed solid constituencies/’bases’ for them (even if their policies didn’t always jive with the groups’ best interests). They also ripped into a Liberal core ‘base’ – New Canadians/ethnic groups. For all the work Liberals had done advocating for New Canadians (with great policy), they didn’t consistently engage with them. Yes Liberals created or married themselves to community leaders, and used them to reach out. Problem is (and the Conservatives understood this), within any community, only going to a select few ‘community leaders’ leads to resentment within the communities among those who aren’t ‘on the inside’… and they were open to the Conservative love-in. The Conservatives by-passed the traditional leaders they could not win over, and went directly to ‘ethnic’ media to get their point across. More on the direct engagement side of things, they engaged the communities by going to events (even without invitations) to speak to the community directly.
To create real engagement and a real dialogue will take time. Social Media is not some “magic wand” you can plug in two weeks before a writ period and suddenly roll to election. There is hard work and effort involved. You need people dedicated to the role. You need to be consistently available. One-way ‘conversations’ end quickly.
To succeed a team or candidate needs to engage community groups now. For the LPC, for example, the Trudeau name is a big sell among ethnic communities – particularly those who came over during the massive immigration waves under Pearson, PET, and Chretien. The Conservatives are very worried that they are losing that base (who they courted on economic issues specifically, as most of those earlier ‘New Canadians’ are established well in the community), and they are doing whatever they can to try to win back some of that support – including the very innaccurate attack ads recently launched on ‘ethnic radio’. There are many ‘ethnic’ community groups currently reaching out to prospective Liberal voters right now, and that effort is growing daily. Online conversations are being heard – and responded to (yet much work still needs to be done).
To succeed in the war for votes within these core constituencies an early start with a real engagement effort is necessary. Particularly if you’re hoping to succeed for the long term – playing the ‘long game’. Begin ‘social listening’ now. Become part of the conversation. Create a real dialogue. Engage. Invite questions and comments, and be active in both listening and responding. The crux is the engagement. Putting out a ‘message’ just is not enough. Join conversations, or create your own. Welcome comments AND provide your own feedback. If you can manage all this – and I won’t mislead you, it WILL take time – you’ll find the success you imagined.
Herman Thind, BSc., OOST,
Certified Social Media Strategist.
Herman is a community advocate, consultant, and a student of all things political. He was born and raised in Saskatchewan, and grew up across Western Canada.