Six Questions a Candidate Should Ask before Tweeting, Blogging or Posting a Status Update

Guest article! This one comes in from Kayle Hatt, an up-and-coming political organizer based in Canada who works with candidates on field organizing and communications and occasionally moonlights as a speechwriter. He also holds province-wide party office with the Ontario New Democratic Party. Take it away, Kayle:

Six Questions a Candidate Should Ask before Tweeting, Blogging or Posting a Status Update

By Kayle Hatt

Social media is a great campaign tool and you shouldn’t shy away from it (In fact, if you neglect social media it could hurt your chances of getting elected), but you should be careful when using social media for campaign purposes. Here are six questions to ask yourself before posting something:

1. Would I say this to a reporter?

Your social media updates don’t just go to your ‘friends’ or your ‘supporters’. These are public statements and will be seen by the media as surely as if you had put them in a press-release — in fact, they may be more likely to be seen because in recent elections most newspapers have started having newsroom staff follow candidates on social media. Mess up and they will know!

Would you want to see this tweet on the front page of tomorrow’s paper? Enough said.

2. Would I say this to an opponent?

Even if your social media updates aren’t being watched by the media you can bet your opponents will be watching. If you post something inappropriate your opponents will be more than happy to pass it on to reporters. Or use your comments in a radio ad attacking you. Or a flyer delivered to every house in the ward/riding. Or have someone ask you about it at a debate.

3. Is this an emotionally-motivated tweet/post?

Campaigns are tough. You will get upset. You will get frustrated. You will get annoyed, sad and at times, disappointed. Those feelings are normal and you are allowed to have them, just don’t tweet or post updates when you feel that way.

Anyone who has ever worked on a campaign will sympathize with your feelings about being attacked at a debate or having a door slammed on your face while canvassing. Unfortunately, most voters haven’t worked on a campaign and won’t sympathize — to them you will just look unparliamentary.

Don’t post on a whim.

4. Does this violate the TMI rule?

T.M.I., as any teenager or their parents can tell you, stands for Too Much Information. Personal posts are fine. Family stuff is good. Attending a local hockey game, great! Doing non-campaign community work, awesome (where do you find the time). Hobbies? Maybe.

BUT stay away from anything too personal, which includes anything about relationships, about drinking with friends or anything even remotely sexual….

Here are some sub-questions in this category to ask yourself:

4.a) Does this personal post portray me in a bad light in anyway?

4.b) Do voters really need to know this about me?

4.c) Is this a G-rated post?

Bottom line is, if you wouldn’t tell your elderly grandmother or your ten-year-old daughter, don’t tell your social media network.

5. Is this post on-message?

You’ve worked hard (hopefully) to develop your campaign themes, spent months researching your main issues, and agonized over word choice in your communications. In short, you’ve carefully crafted and polished your campaign’s message. Why then would you want to tweet about something different?

You are allowed to go off topic from time to time, but always be mindful of when you are doing it (for instance to address something raised by an opponent or some emerging issue of interest to voters), and be conservative about how often you go off topic.

And never go off topic on a whim (see #3).

6. Can this be misinterpreted? Am I communicating what I want to communicate?

Many social networking posts are space limited (Twitter is 140 characters. Facebook is 365) and because of space limitations there is a tendency to cut posts. Beware of misinterpretations. Read and re-read your message looking for possible misunderstandings or double entendres.

Also you many want to consider if you can actually make a nuanced argument or statement on some issues in 140 characters. Perhaps it might be better to make a 300 word blog post on taxes, for example, and then tweet about the blog post including a link rather than making a space limited post that could be misinterpreted.

Final Thought: The internet is forever and your comments are, too.

What you put on the internet can’t be undone. Yes sure, most social media websites give you the option of deleting posts or removing tweets after the fact, but most also give users the ability to get notifications of your new statements to their emails or even their cell phones.

Rest assured that opponents, and any good reporters following you, will have that post long after you’ve deleted it — if you want proof, just read a newspaper from any day during the 2008 Federal election.

Thanks Kayle, good advice — and welcome aboard!


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Kayle Hatt
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