Like it or not, social media and politics have become inseparable.
That’s because so much of our political discourse happens via social media.
Why, though? Tweets and comments represent the modern-day public forum. Social media’s ability to break news in real-time has transformed the way we absorb information.
Meanwhile, the ability to go back-and-forth with voters and constituents directly is invaluable to politicians looking to sway public opinion.
And so politicians from both sides of the aisle now represent some of the busiest accounts across social (note that two of the most-followed Twitter accounts are American presidents).
Navigating social media and politics can be tricky for those responsible for managing public accounts, though. That’s exactly why we put together this guide.
10 best practices for social media and politics
Below we’ve broken down some key topics and best practices when it comes to social media for political campaigns.
From figuring out your content strategy to dealing with trolls, we’ve got you covered.
1. Engage the public via live video
Live video has taken over political social media.
Serving as a sort of alternative to traditional newscasts, social media video empowers politicians to break their own news and have conversations with constituents in real-time.
For example, many politicians have taken to regular live streaming on Facebook and Instagram as a way to interact with voters and non-voters alike. Rather than just talk at voters, live video encourages both meaningful and personable conversations.
MFW I’ve done what feels like 800 livestreams, interviews, zoom calls, FB lives and IG stories this week and someone asks me to make a TikTok pic.twitter.com/YxZYCf9r4o
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 2, 2020
Live social video is especially powerful for smaller, local politicians who need to address issues that might not be receiving mainstream news coverage.
For example, Florida House Representative Anna Eskamani has extensively used Facebook Live throughout the COVID-19 situation to keep voters informed about unemployment benefits and more.
From behind-the-scenes footage to virtual town halls, live video is arguably one of the most compelling features of social media that politicians should be taking advantage of.
2. (Fact-)check yourself prior to publishing
This might seem like a no-brainer but it’s worth noting.
Social media serves as a news source for over half of Americans, with many people checking in multiple times daily for updates. To say that political news moves quickly would be an understatement.
That’s why it’s so important to take a proactive approach against misinformation. This also includes making statements or comments that you might need to walk back because you didn’t take the time to fact-check them.
Anyone running social media for political campaigns has a responsibility to be, well, responsible.
False claims and misinformation are difficult to contain once they’ve been made. As such, make sure to put together some sort of approval process or at the very least double-check your sources and wording before making potentially controversial claims.
Remember: social media and politics isn’t a free-for-all. In a day and age where Presidential tweets are considered public record, there are real-world consequences that go along with a politician’s social presence.
3. Don’t count out “younger” social platforms
Twitter and Facebook are the go-to platforms for political accounts.
And based on social media demographics and how age groups traditionally vote, this makes perfect sense.
But don’t count out the likes of millennials and Gen Z, both of which represent growing voter bases interested in activism. We’re seeing more and more congresspeople, senators and governors investing in Instagram, for example.
Meanwhile, the 2020 Democratic Primary saw its first taste of candidates taking to TikTok…
…and even Snapchat.
The takeaway here is that there is no “single” platform when it comes to social media and politics. This also speaks to the importance of cross-posting your social content to multiple networks when possible for the sake of saving time and reaching more voters.
4. Put your fundraising efforts front-and-center
We already know that platforms like Facebook represent a massive force for fundraising and ad spend. Political ads are no exception.
For reference, you can look up any given political candidate via Facebook’s Ad Library to see how much their campaigns are spending (spoiler alert: a lot).
We won’t get into the anatomy of a perfect political ad on Facebook: just know that fundraising is central to social media and politics.
Beyond running Facebook ads, requesting donations via secure links is likewise fair game. For example, many candidates put their donation links in their social bios or as a dedicated “pinned” post.
Congress legislates. Support a congressional candidate that will out-work the corporate lobbyists: https://t.co/6FALlcnuja. Our campaign advanced to the runoffs in Texas! Help us win: 1⃣ Chip in if you can. 2⃣ Phone bank. 3⃣ RT and spread the word! https://t.co/E5syDoMFsA
— Donna Imam (@donnaimamTX) April 10, 2020
Of course, don’t use social media as a place to spam donation messages. Instead, weave them into your content strategy as-needed alongside news and other informational posts.
5. Learn how to deal with trolls
It’s common to deal with burnout as a social media manager.
And if you’re managing social media for political campaigns, you know this all too well.
Trolling and harassment. Comment spam. Mass reporting.
Unfortunately, all of the above come with the territory of social media and politics.
Beyond developing a thick skin, perhaps the best advice we can offer is to do your best to ignore such comments and not feed the trolls. Try to emphasize a sense of community in the comments and don’t encourage needless fighting. This all circles back to tip #2.
As a side note, bear in mind that public officials can’t block people on Facebook. There’s plenty of debate over whether or not doing so is legal or ethical as social media is seen as a public forum.
Leave it to supporters and community members to report inappropriate posts. If possible, try to push more intense disagreements into your DMs or private messages when appropriate. Whatever you do, be civil.
6. Recognize that not everybody is interested in politics
Comparing social media and politics to that of a business or brand is apples and oranges.
Sure, your goal to grow your follower account and increase the exposure of your campaign.
But as noted in our guide to social media and government, political accounts are seen as the most “annoying” by the public at large.
Why? Some people don’t want to engage with politics or the government on social media. Perhaps they’re burnt out, don’t want to argue with anyone or simply aren’t interested.
Heck, some people go out of their way to block and avoid political discussions via social media.
Don’t take it personally, though. Attracting followers and support might seem like an uphill battle at times.
And that’s fine. Just focus on your goals and engaging with accounts and followers relevant to your cause first and foremost.
7. Consistently ask (and answer) questions
Asking questions is a proven way to boost engagement on social media.
As highlighted by tip #1, Q&As are the bread and butter of political accounts. Posing topical questions to your follower is a simple way to encourage a bit of back-and-forth. Likewise, it’s a way to show that you’re willing to listen to your constituents.
Using platforms such as Instagram Stories, you can vet your questions privately and post the answers publicly to your followers. This allows you to publish more thoughtful responses and likewise serve as something voters can reference in the future.
8. Score more shares with visual content
Visual content such as videos and infographics are among the most-shared social content out there. This rings true across pretty much every platform.
If you’re making an important announcement, consider how you can put together a visual to match up with it. For example, you could easily whip up a graphic like the one below with a tool like Canva.
We've identified six key indicators we need to see in order to be confident that we can begin a safe reopening of RI's economy: pic.twitter.com/8S7HBGikqo
— Gina Raimondo (@GovRaimondo) April 20, 2020
Don’t worry about investing a ton of time and energy into editing if you’re looking to get on board with video, by the way. Off-the-cuff cell phone footage has become a staple of political social media, after all.
The benefit of posting visual content is that it’s prime for sharing, which in turn gets your campaign account in front of more voters. In turn, you set yourself up for fresh followers who can learn about your platform and what you stand for. Think of such sharing as a sort of digital word of mouth.
9. Find time for positive, non-partisan posts
With a staggering 91% of Americans agreeing that political tensions are high, we can’t deny the divide that’s apparent when we look at politics and social media.
Not everything has to be partisan, though. Note what we said earlier about the fact that not everyone wants to hear about politics. This might also be the case for people that do follow you.
Especially now, a positive story “just because” can be a much-needed break from debates and heavy discussions. Consider some types of content for followers regardless of party affiliation including uplifting local stories and holiday celebrations.
10. Make a point to post daily
With so many political campaign strategies made possible by social media, there’s a lot of content to juggle.
Donation requests. Upcoming events and elections. Legislation updates.
And that doesn’t even include real-time news that happens from day-to-day.
Given how quickly the world of politics evolves, it’s important to have your most important updates and content organized and queued up.
That’s where Sprout Social’s publishing tools can come in handy. Allowing you to schedule and publish content across multiple platforms, you don’t have to second-guess whether or not a crucial update was sent out voters.
And with that, we wrap up our guide!
Ready to take on the world of social media and politics?
Listen: there’s a lot that goes into any social media political campaign.
Understanding what to post and how to wrangle your responses will ultimately empower you to build support and a sense of community around your candidacy.
And if you want help with doing exactly that, we encourage you to check out our social media toolkit! Given how busy political accounts are, having more help is always a plus.