It’s expected social media is going to be all the rage for candidates in the current federal election. Using them and using them well are two very different things.

Here are some tips on how to best use social media during a political election campaign.

1) BE AUTHENTIC

First and foremost, know that people relate to other people. Since social media allow you to connect directly with the public, be sure your updates (no matter if they’re text, audio, photo or video) speak to people. Don’t think or “speak” in headlines, media releases or talking points. Think and “speak” coffee shop. This means balancing partisan politics with being a real person (perhaps with a family) immersing themselves in an intense campaign. Also, if people discover you’re a human being, they’ll think of you more that way and will be (generally) more forgiving if you make a mistake online.

Authentic gets support and shared by others. You want to be authentic. You want to be shared.

2) QUALITY OVER QUANTITY (SIGNAL-TO-NOISE)

Your own constituents may be following the social media activities of several candidates, not just you. Journalists, analysts, pundits and enthusiasts will be following more than that. Make your updates valuable and interesting for the public (even the fun ones). This also means making sure your content is sufficiently unique on each social networking site (or outpost as I call them) to make each worth joining. If you put out too much content that doesn’t resonate with the audience, you will be ignored as noise. You want to be signal.

Signal gets attention and shared by others. You want to produce signal. You want to be shared.

3) ENGAGE

Social media has generated a digital culture, a culture which expects more from participants than just fresh, self-serving content. Candidates need to engage with others during the campaign. That means following the conversation about you, your campaign and your opponents and colleagues. Follow journalists who are covering your area and the people in your constituency. Look for opportunities to converse with them the way you would during a door-to-door visit. It may be about the election or the local pee-wee hockey league your daughter is in. Remember, think coffee shop.

Engaging gets participation and shared by others. You want to be engaging. You want to be shared.

4) MAKE YOUR CONTENT SHAREABLE

Tweets can be re-tweeted (re-broadcast by others). Photos uploaded to Flickr (and other photo sharing sites) can be linked-to or downloaded and used on other websites. Videos uploaded to YouTube (and other video sharing sites) can be linked-to or embedded on other people’s web sites and social networking accounts (think Facebook).

That’s not enough. Make sure your website and blog makes it easy for others to announce┬ápromote updates [on your site] by putting “share this” icons (and the supporting functionality) on your site. You get bonus points if you make your content available under a Creative Commons license. Legally, content that is All Rights Reserved cannot be shared or republished without express written permission. It’s a copyright thing. Creative Commons allows you to specify the implicit conditions under which people can use/share your content.

Shareable gets shared by others. You want to be shareable. You want to be shared.

5) SHARE OTHER PEOPLE’S CONTENT

If you notice links to other people content or stumble on interesting articles, videos and photos, mention them and provide links from your website, blog and/or social networking accounts. It’s a great way to help your own community and get the attention of the people whose content you’re promoting. Plus, it shows that you’re on the lookout for great information; that you’re part of the ecosystem.

Sharing other people’s meaningful content gets shared by others. You want to share. You want to be shared.

6) KNOW HOW TO MEASURE SUCCESS AND WHO TO TELL

Don’t bother telling the media or public how well you’re doing online. Don’t publicly announce how many followers your Twitter account has, how many people “Like” your Facebook Fan Page or how many views your video has accumulated. Population doesn’t equate to influence or votes and saying or suggesting so shows how little you know about social media. Success metrics should be connected with specific campaign goals and be shared with your campaign team and party observers. Start by measuring engagement and the outcome of calls to action. If you’re successful online, people will be reading, replying to and re-broadcasting your content, clicking on your links, volunteering and donating.

Simple calls to action convert and then get shared. You want calls to action to convert. You want to be shared.

7) DON’T BE TOO PARTISAN

It’s an election campaign. The public expects candidates will be partisan. They’ve also come to expect some mudslinging. However, they see enough of that in campaign materials, media coverage and debates. There’s a fine line between bringing people’s attention to the bad and sounding like a “griefer” (someone who complains online… a lot). Your politics should be clear, productive and actionable.

Clear, productive and actionable get shared. You want to be clear, productive and actionable. You want to be shared.

8) USE THE RIGHT TOOLS FOR THE JOB

In 2008 there was a lot of talk about the use of Facebook in the election. Many people suggest this will be The Twitter Election. Facebook and Twitter are just tools. And, each tool has benefits, limitations and specific audiences. Twitter, with its 140 character limit, is perfect for bursty information, quick updates and most importantly, directing people to your website and other online content. In fact, it’s becoming more common for Tweeters to issue multi-part Tweets identifying them as 1/3, 2/3 and 3/3. This puts the onus on the reader to find and reassemble the conversation. Clearly, Twitter is not the right tool for that conversation. A blog post or Facebook update which can be linked from Twitter is a better solution.

More about tools. Facebook is better for more meaningful discussion which can be easily promoted to other networks with a single click. Flickr is a great place for posting photos of campaign activities, events, travels and people. Among other things, YouTube can be amazingly helpful at helping share campaign policy and other information which may be more difficult to put in writing. Blogs are perfect for longer form thoughts, explanations and striking the balance of campaign and personal journaling that speaks to the public.

Effective use of the tools gets shared. You want to use tools effectively. You want to be shared.

9) CONNECT THE DOTS

All of your online activity should be connected, ideally in a hub and spoke model. That is, your website should be your online campaign headquarters. Then, your chosen social networking and digital media accounts become outposts (or beach heads) which direct viewers back to your website. So, be sure all of your accounts have complete biographical information to help identify you (this includes a proper description and photo) and have a link back to your website. Make it easy for your constituents to find you and follow you.

A connected presence ensures your entire online ecosystem gets shared. You want to connect the dots. You want to be shared.

10) USE DIGITAL LAWN SIGNS

Having accounts in many places is not enough. Despite what others may tell you, being there is not the equivalent of being in many places at the same time. You need to rely on your supporters to help raise attention about you and your candidacy. In fact, I suggest you should expect them to. But, you have to help them help you.

This is where a concept I call digital lawn signs comes in. Digital lawn signs are images or image-overlays you can make available for supporters to use as their photos (sometimes called avatars) on their social media accounts. This means that everyone who supports you and has a Twitter account can change their Twitter photo to one you provide that says “Vote for Mark.” Everytime your follower Tweets, their network will see that image beside the Tweet. You can also do that for Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and websites. Create two or three slick badges, make them available for download from your website and provide instructions to help your supporters use the badges for their accounts. The result will be like traveling a street with campaign lawn signs. They’re inescapable. More importantly, invite your supporters to create badges and submit them to the campaign for a user-generated shareable content page.

Digital lawn signs and user generated content gets shared. You want digital lawn signs and user generated content. You want to be shared.

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