Why social media? It’s where the people are. As of August 2017, two-thirds (67%) of Americans report that they get at least some of their news on social media – with 2 in 10 doing so often, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center. Sharing your content via social media can help you reach new audiences, as well as existing supporters.
Approach social media with your campaign or non-profit organization’s end goals in mind — it can be a huge time suck if you aren’t focused on what you’re trying to accomplish! Also make sure your candidate or executive director doesn’t fall in love with vanity metrics. There are better places to put your limited organizational budget than driving up the number of Twitter followers (who aren’t in your district or don’t care about your issue). If you can’t fight the power, then at least try to focus their gaze on slightly more meaningful metrics such as engagement or reach.
It’s also not the best tool to reach undecided voters (unless you have an ad budget), because the people most motivated to seek you out on social media are your diehard fans (or enemies). It’s also usually hard to fundraise from directly. However social media is a great way to build and engage your base, by interacting with your most dedicated supporters. It’s also a good way to share breaking news quickly. In the end, you’ll need to balance the time commitment versus what you get out of it – is this the best investment of time for the campaign?
Here’s a dirty little secret: only part of your online fanbase on social networks ever sees your content. First of all, social media is like a fast flowing river, and the flow of new content is so steady that your information may be quickly washed away. Most people don’t spend all day on social media. And if somebody doesn’t view their Facebook or Twitter news streams within a few hours of when you post something, they’ll never see it – unless they seek your page out, or somebody retweets or shares your content. On top of this, Facebook uses an algorithm to determine what content it shows users, called “EdgeRank”. On average, only a small percentage of your fans see your content on Facebook. You can see how large the audience is or was for any individual post if you are the manager of a Facebook page – pay attention to the X people reached / % stats that are listed on the bottom of every post. How do your posts compare on average? Twitter does resurface some of the ‘best’ tweets when a user logs back in, but don’t count on this being your tweet.
With these limitations in mind, how do you get the most out of social media? Always be using social media to capture more email addresses – then you can control the flow of communication to your supporters, rather than a for-profit company with constantly changing rules. This is so important that I wrote a whole blog post on how to do it, how to use social media for email list building.
But how can you reach the widest possible audience on social media with your content? Some of the basic principles:
- Serve up great, unique, regular content.
Social media should be interesting and fun. Nobody has to listen to you, so if you post boring content they will stop listening. This goes back to the story-telling piece, talk about real people, real problems when possible instead of dull facts and figures. On social media, cold faceless corporations are people too! Just look at Wendy’s (restaurant) Twitter feed. Also be consistent in terms of your candidate/organizational voice. Once you’ve developed a style, stick to it—unless it isn’t working, in which case maybe try out a different style. If your voice is too clinical, liven it up. Snark reigns on social media.
- Don’t drunk post. What seems like a good idea at 2am, can have horrific consequences the next day. If you’re posting about sensitive subject matter, or are in a hurry, or are not entirely sober, it may be best to have another set of eyes look over your covfefe before posting.
- Repeat yourself a lot (but not too much). You can get away with a lot more repetition on Twitter than on Facebook, but even with Facebook feel free to repeat your best content. If it does well the first time, try reposting it a few days later.
- Interact with your audience, don’t just talk to yourself. For Facebook in particular, we know their algorithm (lately — this is ever-changing!) favors photos and videos (especially Facebook live—at the time of writing this), more than links and status updates. So use photos and videos as much as possible to convey your information.
Nothing helps manipulate the algorithm more than likes AND comments AND shares on your posts. So how do you get those likes and comments and shares? Make sure that your content is something that people want to share and interact with (and be seen sharing and interacting with). Sharing and commenting and liking is voluntary, so make it so they want to. Post to encourage interactivity. Ask questions. Throw out things that will get your audience revved up and commenting. Interact with the supporters that post on your social media, like their comments.
The “rules” are kind of similar for Twitter. If you want retweets, you should post good content, and ask for retweets. (But do not ask for shares directly on Facebook, their algorithm will penalize you.) Also don’t just post a link on social media – add some context about what the link is about and why it’s of interest (as much as you can, given character limitations on social media!). Interact with people, retweet them on occasion, reply back.
- Also don’t just post a link on social media – add some context about what the link is about and why it’s of interest (as much as you can, given character limitations on social media!).
- Be careful not to post too much on Facebook, or people will unfan or hide your content. Each Page is different and needs to find its own optimal posting frequency depending on its content and audience. Also make sure you are posting what you audience wants and expects to see, that the content matches the audience.
- You don’t have to worry so much about this with Twitter, because: a) the audience is not static, meaning you only hit the people who are on at that time or specifically seek out your content; and b) there is no algorithm to manipulate, it is (mostly) a straight, untouched newsfeed. Because of that, you should post more frequently on Twitter than Facebook and reiterate key messaging points or action items at different times. You’ve got a lot more leeway before you wear out your audience.
- Vary up the time & days you post, because some people check Facebook and Twitter at different times of the day. Consider time zones, shift workers, stay at home parents or caregivers. Don’t forget about weekends too. You can’t assume that one posting on one day/time is going to reach everyone. Facebook allows you to schedule posts in advance (and so does Twitter with tweetdeck), so take advantage of this feature! There are also all kinds of 3rd party tools for managing and scheduling social media too, the best known of which is HootSuite. Be careful when scheduling out content in advance, because current events can make your content redundant, or worse yet, insensitive or offensive.
- Geographically target your Facebook posts when possible, which is important to make sure your content is relevant to your audience (also helps avoid overwhelming people). You can change the targeting of the post just down to people in a state, or even a city. How you do it is when you’re about to post something, click on the drop down menu next to the Post button (It probably says “Public” for you now). When you pull down the menu, you have the option to customize your audience.
- Work with your supporters to amplify your best content. Set up a private direct message group on Twitter and a Facebook group message (or private Facebook group) with your supporters that have the largest social media audiences, and ask them to reshare content. Note that you need to be judicious with this, so they don’t consider it spam and check out of the conversation. You could also try sending out periodic emails to the identified social media users on your list (perhaps use a checkbox when people originally sign up to find them), with guidance on messaging and so on. Build out a social media team: this is another way volunteers can help, especially people who love social media. How do you find your existing supporters with large networks? Look at Twitonomy for Twitter and ActionSprout for Facebook. You also should be building relationships with people in your district or who care about your issues on social media, to get them on board with your campaign or organization.
- Use hashtags. Be looking (or creating) hashtags to go along with your cause. Candidates should find the state and local hashtags. Congressionals typically use state and district number (#ca10, #ia05, etc.) or race specific hashtags (#ncgov, #nesen, etc.). Some states have statewide political hashtags like #ncpol as well. These hashtags are populated with activists and used by journalists to nab stories, which is exactly the audience you are targeting on Twitter. Also there are tons of issue-related hashtags out there that you can use to reach activists who are following and care about your issue.
- Decide on your Twitter following strategy. Most organizations go one of two routes: “name brand” organizations or campaigns are often very selective in who they follow. They can afford to be – they will gain thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of followers just by being Bernie Sanders or MoveOn. If you’re an upstart campaign or organization, you may want to try something different. If you follow people using your issue keywords and/or in your district and/or using hashtags like #FBR (Follow Back Resistance), many will follow you back. #FBR especially is a good hashtag to follow, because it’s self-proclaimed progressives who like to follow back other progressives. You can follow up to 1000 new accounts a day, until you hit the 5000 limit. After that, you are limited to only following roughly 110% more accounts than that follow you. But with a good Twitter plan, some semi-automated tools, and time, you too can develop thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter.
- But don’t spam people on Twitter… you can invite people into a conversation, but it’s generally weird to start tweeting generically at people who are not following you and don’t offer a conversational “in” for you to respond to. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger at a party and start blasting them with your message, treat social media similarly. You need to start with “hello” or a more customized message if they are not already listening to you. But feel free to dunk on your opponents by replying with snark to their ill-advised tweets (if that’s in keeping with your social media voice).
Once you get set up on a social media site, you need to keep posting regular content (looks really bad to have an abandoned social networking presence, maybe even ammo for opponents to make fun of, or graffiti on your Facebook wall). It’s better to pick one thing (perhaps Facebook, since it reaches the largest audience) than to try to do Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest etc, and not do any of them well. You can also ask supporters and super volunteers to help share the load with social media, but make sure you trust their judgement before you give them admin-level access to social media accounts. Because that’s giving them the ability to use the voice of the campaign or non-profit.
What happens if you goof up? If nobody notices, you may be able to delete or edit the offending post quickly enough to fix it. Note that Facebook displays an edit trail, so people can see what the original post is. If something goes viral, you may need to bite the bullet and apologize. Apologize like a real adult: use the words “I’m sorry”, tell people what happened (but only if it’s relevant, and not in a weasely way to excuse the inexcusable), tell people what you learned/how you’ll do better next time, and absolutely do not blame an intern, the dog, Martians etc.
Here’s some tips on how to get started with social media for a non-profit or campaign, and how to build your email list through social media. Have more questions about making the most of social media for your non-profit or political campaign? Contact PowerThru today!