5 Take-Aways on Social Media and Politics

Discussion around my recent post on some alleged unethical social media use during Toronto’s mayoral election got me thinking around some broader topics that have emerged recently.

Without further ado, here are five thoughts on themes I’ve seen recently.

1. People who try to tie social media success or failure alone to campaign results are nuts

I’ve said it many times, communications is evolving away from silos and towards integrated campaigns. As this continues, we’ll see fewer and fewer stand-alone “social media” successes and more and more multi-channel successes – for example, owned properties supported by earned media, paid ads and social channels.

People who continue to produce analyses of whether social media drove the success of a candidate, or whether better social media would have improved the odds of a candidate, are missing the bigger picture. We should be looking at the overall communications approaches of campaigns, and how they communicate the selling points of candidates and parties.

Take-away: Consider the bigger picture rather than analyzing artificial silos.

2. Buzz is very different to mobilization

The volume of online chatter about a candidate may say something about candidates, but is very, very different to activating those people to take action. The fact that people are discussing something doesn’t mean they are going to do anything about it. That’s especially the case when the online discussion is passive – that is, that it’s happening about offline activities but isn’t backed-up with online engagement or a call to action.

Take-away: Share of voice is only one metric. Look at other metrics alongside it, and analyse those metrics to provide useful insights and recommendations.

3. Social media doesn’t reach everyone

…and neither does the Globe and Mail. Neither does cable news. That’s why organizations – political and non-political – need to adopt communications approaches that integrate multiple media to reach people, multiple times, with consistent, simple and compelling content.

Take-away: Bring marketing, media and PR together to create integrated plans for optimum results.

4. Crises CAN emerge online

Crisis communications is a fascinating topic nowadays. There are plenty of scenarios where a situation can emerge online and translate into a critical election issue. For that reason it’s critical that organizations monitor online channels – and not just about themselves, but about their key issues – on an ongoing basis to identify issues early and provide additional time to mitigate them.

Take-away: Monitor before issues emerge, rather than after they hit, to create additional opportunities for issues management.

5. Communications can only solve so much

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. Communications can’t solve everything. If your policies are poor, good communications won’t help. If your product or service is poor, or your customer service is awful, good communications is likely to draw more peoples’ attention to that.

Yes, poor communications can ruin even the best policies – the best policy in the world is no use in a campaign if no-one understands it or knows about it – but communications can only do so much.

Take-away: Make sure the underlying fundamentals are good before pointing the finger at communications.

  • OMG, Dave, how many times can I say “Amen”?

    Especially to #5. Far too many times, we’re called in to “put out fires.” Invariably, I feel like saying, “Hello, did you not REALIZE this was a problem to begin with?!” Goes back to the whole “bring PR in at the strategic and not tactical phase.” Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll see that start to change in our lifetimes.

    • Thanks, Shonali – glad you like the post!

  • Michael Fraietta

    What I didn’t see any of the candidates do in this election is humanize themselves. They all seemed like typical politicians saying all the right things and being at the right photo-ops. Of what I heard of the Calgary election, Naheed Nensh was able to win because he connected with people on a personal level through things like his Tedx talk and active 2-way Twitter efforts.

    I think the traditional media is still concerned over who reached the most eyes and ears. An election can be won using social media, but by reaching the most hearts and minds.

    @mikefraietta

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