As election season nears once again, we start considering the social media strategies politicians might take this time around. Since politician use of Twitter is constantly on the rise, we might wonder: who is going to try to leverage the power of social media this time?
But let’s face it: politics is not a field made for Twitter-esque instantaneous updates. Successful politicians are experts at making sure their words never offend, even when taken completely out of context. This means all of the bland, genial, party-approved “canned speeches” the public is so accustomed to hearing out of our representatives. There really is no room for spontaneity, or the tip-of-the-brain thoughts that are prevalent on Twitter. And when there is, it can result in a public backlash if one is not careful. Yet, Twitter holds one of the largest and most active user bases in the world of social media, which could present huge benefits to any corporation, small business, or politician.
So the question is, are Twitter and other social networking platforms worth the time and devotion needed to help a politician along in a campaign? To address this, let’s look at the pros and the cons involving the political power of social media.
Always deliver the bad news first: with updates as instantaneous as they are on Twitter, accidents happen. You might mistake your tweet bar for your search bar. You might hit enter too soon. You might have a battle with autocorrect (hilarious, but embarrassing). Even if you’re the most well-versed in Twitter technology, you can’t ward against accidents.
To make it all worse, the delete button is just a placebo – it makes you think your words have disappeared off the internet, but they haven’t. Especially in the case of a politician with hundreds of thousands of followers, someone will have screenshotted it. For instance, earlier this year, British politician Jesse Norman came under fire for retweeting what some considered to be an inappropriate joke about a murder trial. (Below). He soon deleted it and apologized, but the news articles are still out there. Even in the case of do-no-evil Google, anyone can see how un-snazzy their homepage was back in 1999. The lesson here: nothing ever disappears off the internet.
It doesn’t have to be a technology error either. Parties may feed certain “approved” lines to their members to broadcast out to the public. If a political enthusiast follows several politicians from the same party and notices that they begin to say the same thing in various different wordings, is it more likely that they’ll think “these two people just happened to have the same thought,” or “someone must be feeding them lines”? Clearly, this kind of bureaucratic bandwagoning can damage a politician’s image and relationship with followers. Yet, can they fly in the face of their party and refuse to speak for its purposes?
Politicians are essentially brands in and of themselves. Instead of a good or service, however, their product is the service of leadership and their work is representing the common people to the government. As such, they stand to lose as much as a brand, but they also stand to gain the same amount.
In considering the gaffes above, they could happen to a brand as well. What makes it more difficult to deal with for a politician is the fact that they must keep up a certain type of face to the public. In other words, their “brand image” is static or more difficult to move, whereas a typical brand can change their direction more easily. However, these gaffes are also relatively rare, and will almost never happen if the social media coordinator knows their trade.
Politicians have to gain everything that any public figure has to gain: an outlet for publicity and to connect personally with their audience. In addition, the same tips apply to them as to other brands. Be personable and show some humanity. Have a good mix of types of posts in the Twitter feed. Interact meaningfully with your audience. Content is king. Tips on how to be the perfect social media user abound, and almost all of them are easily ported to politics.
Ultimately, the risk of a politician’s “gaffe” seems larger than it is due to the media. You never see the media reporting on how much a politician is sticking to the party script, but rather it’s the outliers that are reported on. Though these issues, if they do happen, have undeniable effect over the politician’s image, so many social media campaigns go on without a hitch that in the end, this extremely personal interaction with one’s audience nets highly positive and is without a doubt worth the time and effort.