The following is an excerpt from “How to Use the Internet to Win in 2014: A Comprehensive Guide to Online Politics for Campaigns & Advocates”, available for download on Amazon.com and here on Epolitics.com.
Please note that this excerpt discusses the mechanics of managing a Facebook Page; the strategies behind why and when to use Facebook to achieve particular political and advocacy goals are discussed elsewhere in the book.
From the “Social Media” Chapter
Social Media is Social
Unfortunately, you can’t just hop on Facebook and Twitter and expect people to come flooding to read your feed. One common mistake: to treat Facebook and Twitter as just another set of broadcast channels. Of course, you CAN just post your content and sit back to watch the results, but you’re likely to see a more robust response if you actually interact with people when you can.
But going back and forth with people takes time! Which is one reason that campaigns tend to focus on the big venues like Facebook and Twitter and ignore the plethora of smaller networks unless they meet a particular need (for instance, connecting with an ethnic- or interest-based community). Of course, many campaigns will play in spaces like Instagram and Pinterest (each of which has political uses, as you’ll see if you click those links), but they’ll usually be posting content there that they were already planning to put on Facebook (recycling is a virtue!). As in every other area we talk about in this book, each tool has an opportunity cost: spread yourself too thin by building profiles on too many social sites and you won’t use ANY of them well. So in this chapter, we’ll focus on the big players: Facebook and Twitter.
While political campaigns at all levels can benefit from Facebook, it’s probably most important for down-ballot candidates, who don’t have as many resources to pour into advertising and field organizing. For a mayoral candidate or a state legislator, Facebook can work as a virtual campaign office and a place for supporters to gather. But for campaigns of any size, it’s a powerful channel for distributing the campaign’s message in the form of sharable content and a good way to keep supporters involved day to day.
Facebook pages are easy for campaigns to create — you can fill in the essential information in a few minutes — but they definitely require follow-on work to reach their full potential. For a start, you’ll want to populate your following with people you know: it helps to connect aggressively (though perhaps not TOO aggressively) with potential “friends,” perhaps starting with the candidate’s own social connections and moving on to party activists, local officials, bloggers and the members of your own supporter list (include a link to your profile pages in mass emails and people will do some of the work for you). Once you hit a critical mass of supporters, they’ll start interacting with each other on your page, often “shouting down” critics, trolls and cranks.
Facebook Content Strategy
Next, you’ll need to feed the beast with content. Regular updates keep a campaign in front of supporters’ eyes, and asking people to repost your content to their own profiles will expose it to their own extended social networks. What to post? Photos and other visual content such as infographics whenever possible Facebook’s current content-display algorithms favor images and by default will show them to more of your followers when you post them.
Photos from rallies, pictures of the candidate’s family or of volunteers hard at work can all be excellent choices and featuring volunteers can be a great way to reward people for their time and energy. One important note: the more that people interact with your content (Like/Share/Comment), the more likely Facebook is to highlight it for them in the future. Engagement is key, and current success sets you up to do well in the future. So try to post engaging content….
In the current Facebook environment, the importance of that last point CANNOT be overstated. Here’s the rub: with every passing week, it seems, Facebook’s content algorithm displays a page’s content to a smaller and smaller percentage of its followers by default, and if you run a page at the moment, you’ve likely seen the results in the form of lower and lower “X people saw this post” numbers.
How to get around this problem? Besides paying for distribution (“boosting,” which we’ll cover in detail in the chapter on digital advertising), the best strategy is a robust stream of content that your followers find compelling enough to Like, Share or Comment upon. This process takes time: you’ll need to take the photos, prepare the “memes” and other images, write the status updates, edit the videos, etc., all of which takes staff or volunteers away from other tasks like raising money or talking with voters. But it’s what works: the experience of many campaigns, advocacy groups and corporate brands is that good content regularly posted can keep a page’s fans engaged enough that Facebook will keep dropping its posts into their newsfeeds.
How do you know what works? Your supporters will tell you, in the form of engagement measures (Likes, Shares and Comments, again!). Which posts get the most response? Which ones do people choose to share? The latter is particularly vital, since shared content exposes your page (and your campaign) to new supporters…and voters. Fortunately stats like these are relatively simple to keep track of, as we’ll discuss in the chapter on political data, and page administrators quickly get an idea of the kinds of posts that work with their particular audience.
Besides imagery, as we discussed above, what other content should campaigns focus on? Links, news stories, videos, short notes any type of text or image you might consider posting to your own profile is potentially good, assuming the actual content reinforces your messaging. But campaigns are now learning to engage social media supporters directly, for instance by asking questions on the page and by participating in discussions taking place in the comments on posts.
Of course, there’s always that “time” problem…and if regular posting takes time, regular interaction requires even more! A common question: how often should a campaign post to Facebook? Except in rare circumstances, don’t post new content like photos and status updates more than three or four times per day any more, and you’re like to drive down your “engagement rate” (the percentage of your followers Liking/Sharing/Commenting on your content). For most of us, though, the problem isn’t too much content — it’s not having enough time to post enough images, videos and updates at all.
One final rule of thumb in Facebook outreach: move people onto your email list as quickly as possible, because email appeals have a much higher response rate than Facebook posts. Not every one of your “friends” will join your list, but a campaign is likely to get more work and more donations out of the ones who do. Still, campaigns will frequently find that their most-committed supporters “hang out” on the campaign’s Facebook page whether or not they’re also on the email list. As we’ve said before, don’t think of email and Facebook as an either/or proposition ideally, they play well together. Here’s a brand-new development on that front: tools like ActionSprout that help people take actions (like join your email list) WITHOUT leaving Facebook. Already in 2013, we’ve seen political groups using ActionSprout to boost their engagement rates and Facebook-to-email conversions.
In the next installment, we’ll talk discuss Facebook advertising in detail.