Using Social Media to Win Your Political Campaign – Political Campaign Tips
social media for political campaigns
There are literally hundreds of different online tools that can be described as “social media,” so don’t be embarrassed if you don’t yet have a firm grasp on exactly what it entails. Basically, social media is any website or Internet program that allows you to meet and share information with groups of people online.
Some of the more popular social media websites include Twitter, Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, Yahoo Buzz, Reddit, LinkedIn and YouTube, many of which you’ve almost certainly heard of. Each social media site lets you share information in different ways and with different types of materials: Facebook and LinkedIn help connect friends and colleagues; Digg and Yahoo Buzz let you promote online articles; YouTube focuses on video.
Before you scoff at the idea of using social media in your political campaign, consider a few important things. Regardless of the size of your district, the odds are that there are many, many more potential voters than you realize who are members of online communities in one or more of these social networking sites. And there are numerous ways for you as a candidate to become involved in those social media communities and use them to find volunteers, donors and votes for your campaign.
As social media becomes more and more popular, elected officials and political candidates from across the country–and on all levels–are starting to realize the amazing potential that the phenomenon has to drum up support. Even office holders who were first elected long before the Internet have started to maintain active Twitter and Facebook pages to reach out to constituents and supporters.
Here’s why social media is so perfectly tailored to help in political campaigns: because there has never been an easier way to stay in immediate and direct contact with thousands and thousands of supporters. While political campaign promotion in the past involved laborious tasks such as bulk mail lists and automated phone calls, social media lets you reach out to every single one of your supporters with jut a few keystrokes.
Even email listbuilding, which was an Internet predecessor to social media, isn’t as effective in keeping a finger on the pulse of your consitituents and keeping them updated about your political campaign.
I can tell you firsthand that social media like Facebook and Twitter can help you raise more money and support than you can imagine–with one caveat. You have to put in a bit of work early on to learn both how to manage your social media accounts, and how to build up lists of friends to communicate with.
And don’t think that you absolutely must have a political campaign website in order to take advantage of social media as a tool to help you win on election day. Although a website helps, social media can be used effectively by political candidates even if they are running in a small race and can’t afford to hire a website designer.
In future articles, we’re going to focus on specific social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to tell you everything you need to know about using them to get votes.
Until then, start learning a little bit about social media on your own time by visiting these sites and navigating through them. Open your own social media accounts and start teaching yourself how to join groups and find friends, and the process of integrating this online networking into your political campaign will be even easier.
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Electioneering campaign plays a crucial role in the electoral victory or failure of candidates and their respective political parties. A vital component of the campaign
process is the message conveyed to the target audience – the electorate, and the means of doing so. In the past, politicians relied on traditional methods including the use of newspapers, radio and television (TV) advertisements, mounting of political billboards, posters and branding of vehicles with party logos and symbols among a host of others. In the run up to 2016 elections in Ghana, the use of social media platform has emerged and making impact in reaching out to a large proportion of the electorate. Much as the use of this technological medium has lots of benefits of reaching out to a large proportion of wider audience at a relatively cheaper cost, it
also has its own challenges including unreliability and inaccessibility of this new method of electioneering campaigning. This paper examines the usefulness and critical challenges in the use of social media by politicians in elections in Ghana with success lessons from technologically developed countries.
The electioneering campaign season has begun as Ghana prepares for the 2016 election. Functionaries of the various political parties are making feverish preparation to craft attractive messages and explore many new and diverse ways by which they can reach out to a large segment of the population. One of such new strategies of attaining this goal is through the use of the social media platform. In today’s world, the social media are essential to democracy, and a democratic election campaign is impossible without media. A free and fair election is not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also about a participatory process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties,
policies, candidates and the election process itself in order to make informed choices. Furthermore, social media acts as a crucial watchdog to democratic elections campaigns, safeguarding the transparency of the process.
Social Media Technology
Social media is an online resource(s), used by people to share different contents such as photos, videos, images and news (Isiofidis, 2014). It facilitates the development of online social networks by connecting a user’s profile with those of other groups or individuals. Some of the social media technologies include; blogs, microblogs, video sharing, social gaming, photo sharing and business networks among others. Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter top up the list of the most popular social media sites with the most followers. This technology alters the modes in which people relate to one another as well to relate to organizations. The social media technology is globally connected and used by people of all ages (Wani & Alone, 2014). The youth are the most social media users with a rough estimate of about 89 per cent active (Iosifidis,
2014). Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia have the highest figure of social media users.
Social media differs from the traditional media in numerous ways. Davis and Mintz (2009) distinguish social media applications from non-social by using features like user-generated social content, social networking, collaboration and cross-platform data sharing.
Social media and democracy
By using easy social networking sites, people have the ability to challenge existing powers and elect the rulers of their choice (Loader, 2012). Through the social media, people no longer have to be passive consumers of news or political propaganda.
Rather, they have the power to challenge discourses, publish their opinions and to share their perspectives (Loader, 2012). The openness in social media enables “masscollaboration” of groups and individuals. These groups and individuals in turn provide sources for new ideas and innovations for democratic practices. In democracy, the people of the country participate in the selection of their leader by choosing from among a number of contestants, and the candidate most of the electorate make their preference for wins the contest. In this regard, most political parties and the politicians run campaigns to promote their agenda and their candidates with the hope of winning massive votes.
For this reason, most of them use social media to enhance their popularity and followers who may in turn vote for them. The social media has become a democratic social network platform in several countries like Tunisia. A single photo on Twitter united thousands of Tunisians who successfully removed a dictator from power (Iosifidis, 2014). Social media is democratic in the sense that it gives voice and power to the people who have neither. By following a politician on social media, the common man can decide to either vote or not to vote for that candidate on their volition. However, the widespread use of social media does not guarantee participatory democracy (Unwin, 2012) and as well the tools such as text messaging, e-mail, photo sharing, social networking, and the like – does not have a single preordained outcome. There is therefore, the need for ruling systems to adopt social media platforms that serve the interest of everyone (Unwin, 2012).
General Benefits of Social media
Social media is a cost-effective and highly relevant campaign tool for interested political candidates and parties. There is digital permanence of the political content. For this reason, online viewers can watch and share the tweets, posts, videos and pictures at any time of the day with relevant past events to boost current campaigns (Hwang, 2016). Additionally, at the moment, all the social media sites can be easily accessed through portable electronic gadgets such as mobile phones, tablets, i-phones, et cetera. Therefore, the election candidate is assured that his or her message will be easily accessed.
Social media is a forum for an exchange of general knowledge. There are numerous new things that people learn online such as the latest technology, fashion trends etcetera while most learning institutions adopt it for exchange programmes (Collin, 2011).
Social media has enabled people to share creative content via blogs, videos, animations and among other platforms with subsequent exchange of technical and literacy skills, cultural exchange and creation of jobs et cetera (Collin, 2011). It has also promoted self-expression and self-identity as young people can express themselves on social media without adult regulation. In turn, they develop psychologically and also develop new healthy relationships (Coli, 2011). Social media also creates a sense of belonging and strengthens communities. In simpler terms, social media has reduced the world in one tiny village where everyone “belongs”.
Challenges in social media in elections campaigns
In spite of the numerous benefits associated with the use of the social media platform, the technology also has its own challenges. Crowdsourcing is notably a major challenge in the use of social media in electioneering campaigns. That is, due to the changing Internet environment, there are opportunities to involve and empower citizens in campaigns and work of representatives and government (Effing, van Hillegersberg, & Huibers, 2011). Participants on social media should have the desire to actively engage and to become both producers and consumers of information (Williams and Chinn, 2010).
Most of the social media sites are viral. With this high speed, it only takes few words to destroy a candidate or a political campaign. Subsequently, any inappropriate remark is immediately read and also shared by many people (Smith, 2011). It is important for election candidates and campaign teams to work with professional social media sites experts who monitor the sites who will be able to clean any such viral attack as soon as they are detected.
Almost all politicians and aspiring candidates want to interact directly with their online followers. Some end-consumers could get the impression that anonymous accounts are used to enable employees to post fake messages and overly-positive feedback, which could severely damage the credibility. (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Consequently, the candidates lose thousands of followers and tarnish their reputation. It is therefore beneficial for political candidates and their teams to use the Facebook as the candidates have Facebook representatives who are in charge of the sites (Smith, 2011).
There are also some social media sites that cannot be controlled. Regarding this, a social media site such as Twitter can only be operated by the candidate since they post their opinions. Therefore, the candidate may post something insensitive, which will, in, turn, be used against them. Political candidates should work closely with their social media teams and be careful with every word they say, or picture or video they post on their sites.
4.0 Successes of social media in elections campaigns
Running a successful political campaign through social media is likely to bring about the best reputation and success to political party candidates as it has done for others cited in the ensuing cases.
4.1 The Barack Obama
In America’s 2008 election, Obama campaign showed how social media can be used as a successful campaign tool to interact and engage voters. Even though the campaign offered nothing new, it was an innovative platform that attracted millions of voters (Ames, 2014). The campaign focused on the youth voters who were active on social media to popularise Obama as the favourite presidential candidate (Birgisdottir, 2014). Through the use of the social media platform, Obama’s image was made to appear authentic. This boosted Obama’s popularity among the young voters, winning 57 per cent of the votes in the primaries (Birgisdottir, 2014). His campaign focused on major social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Myspace and Youtube that were popular at the time. These influential social media platforms became a central platform in the campaign (Chang, 2010).
Andrew Sparrow is an online political journalist who covers elections by blogging about them. He most successful blog was about the long queues and the frustrated voters who were at the polling stations. Subsequently, his blog played a key role in corroborating and collating election reports (Newman, 2010).
4.3 Tony Abbott
At the most recent Australian Federal Election, the polls were tight but the main “Say Yes” advert used by the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, gained 40,000 views on YouTube. Tony Abbot became the most talked about election candidate on Twitter and Facebook, taking out the highest number of mentions on both platforms. He and his Liberal Party’s campaign on the social media made use of celebrities (Michael Caton and Cate Blanchett) to carried out as a touch with the economic concerns of ordinary Australians (Chen, 2010).
4.5 Donald Trump
The United States’ presidential candidate who is vying on a Republican ticket has also employed the social media platform extensively in his campaign. Although the election is yet to held, Trump is already a social media sensational with such a large following. He has skilfully used the platform to popularize his campaign strategies and to win more supporters (Hwang, 2011). Trump has been using Twitter to engage his followers and to challenge his critics. Trump’s rising fame is also attributable to the active emotional connection that he has with his online followers. Instead of posing questions and liking specific things, Trump re-tweets supportive posts and responds to tweets (Hwang, 2016). Despite his age, he has succeeded in relating to his supporters in an effective and authentic social media way. Currently, he boasts of 6.1 million followers on Twitter (McCarren, 2016).
Social media sites provide election candidates with the tools to control their messages without them passing through the press (Hwang, 2016). To gain more support from followers, political candidates should adopt the latest media sites that are efficient and effective in mass-communication (Hwang, 2016). These media platforms are readily available because of the rapid advancement in digital technology. With this new technology, the candidates have the opportunity to control their messages and have a
higher potential to reach a wider audience (Hwang, 2016). With an active social media audience, the political candidates and campaign teams should update to the current technology and use the social media sites that their voters use.
Regarding Ghana’s 2012 elections, there was an increase in the use of social media platforms, especially for campaigning. Whatsapp, which is a social media site used by the youth, has been used to broadcast campaign materials (Ali & Davies, 2009). Some of the Presidential Debates were uploaded on YouTube for interested votes that were both home and abroad. For some, the social media is the hub for collecting information about the elections in Ghana. BloggingGhana, an association of Ghanaian bloggers has popularised the use of social media by educating the online community about using social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Even though the 2012 election was highly competitive, the elections were held in a peaceful environment. Most of the candidates used social media to influence and to win more supporters (Commonwealth, 2012).
The use of social media played a significant role particularly in the 2012 elections in diverse ways. In the first place it served as a source of public information regarding the activities and messages of the candidates and the processes of the election itself. Most Ghanaian users of the platform were able to follow the election proceedings through social media sites such as Whatsapp and Facebook, through their mobile phones (Atengble, 2014). Events that occurred at the various polling stations were transmitted to users instantaneously as they occur thus making obsolete news carried by the traditional media such radio, television and newspapers.
Also, the facility produced more educated and informed public. The public were kept well abreast of events throughout the period and even beyond. During the election petition hearing, the video files of the court proceeding were uploaded on YouTube channels and other social media platforms for viewing by Ghanaian users of the platform. People were thus, able to follow the proceedings live as they are without any cases of misinformation (Atengble, 2014). Similarly, the general public was also kept abreast of the legal proceedings that they were not conversant with through social media sites.
The use of the technology also had an advantage of presenting to the public transparent proceedings. Using the various social media sites to provide public information reduced the room for suspicions. Most of the political activists and public commentators, therefore, relayed appropriate and consistent information to the public as they had access to first-hand information. There was no chance for party functionaries to feed the public with diluted information.
No matter how successful the use of the social media platform was in Ghana’s 2012 elections, a caution must be sounded to candidates and other parties involved in the handling of social media sites with caution. The platform is a good master, but can also be a bad master too. If it is used appropriately, the social media can guarantee a successful election campaign. However, some social media sites can harm the candidates if it is mishandled (Hwang, 2016). Nonetheless, effective employment of social media provides analytics to track website users and engage supporters for the benefit of the interested individual (Hwang, 2016).
Social media is one of the most effective campaign tools for interested political parties and individuals. Using an example of Barack Obama, social media was one of the tools that helped him to win presidential elections for two successive times in the US. Also, working with a professional online team also helped him to achieve enviable feat. With the recent resolve to online use in Ghana, they are on the right track towards fair and just elections. This is not to say that social media will provide them with democracy. But if they contribute with the same trend shown in 2012, there will be better electoral results which many Ghanaian will find most satisfactory owing to the use of social media.