I was recently asked by an elected politician what should their optimal social media (SM) strategy be. They were advised by Westminster associated consultants that they should do nothing on their own. i.e. the consultants told them not to meddle with the ‘dark art’ of social media.
I responded that use of social media should depend on a number of things. The list below is an expanded version of my answer.
Engagement with social media for a political actor should depend on:
- The volatility of the electoral contest. In ‘settled’ or non-volatile contests it is not necessary to deploy new political communication strategies.
- Internet penetration in their locality and social media adoption of the target audience.
- Their political opponents political communication strategy. Engagement very much depends on what I call a flotilla strategy. Are opponents using these technologies? If so, it might be safer to do so as well.
- Whether access to a younger socio-demographic is important.
- It should be fundamentally determined by the targets of the media campaign.
- Finally, it should be determined by the salience of the political message.
- Could their campaign message benefit from ‘viral’ distribution’?
- And how vulnerable are they from messages of others they will not be able to immediately respond to?
A social media strategy is no substitute for political leadership and a sharp political nous that selects and promotes political messages of high salience to the electorate. Indeed, SM cannot substitute the need for coherent and versatile political communications.
To provide an example: the current Obama campaign is expected at 35m$ to be spending between 3-4% of its budget on SM advertising. And they are nowhere near the most effective in media replication and viral dissemination. Broadcast media celebrate what they cannot understand and there is a lot of hype about mobilising the grassroots through SM. It appears that Obama strategists are dominantly employing a saturation strategy to the political market (buy as much advertising as possible). Romney strategists deploy a more direct segmentation strategy. It is not clear which will be the most effective, considering the specific political message of the candidates and the demographic they target. As a final caution I should note that the jury is still out on what constitutes effective use of social media.