Social media are multi-dimensional. They’re really not as simple as a channels over which anyone can pump content; though, they are often used that way. I often talk about two major considerations which must be closely tied to goals (e.g. donations, feedback, sales, votes or voter turnout, etc…)

THE CHANNEL/TOOL

Think of this in terms of where you need to be to reach a certain audience a certain way. This is analogous to a coffee shop, house, community centre or office. In media terms this isn’t just your choice of a variety of print and broadcast media; this includes your choice of publication, columnists, stations or programs. In social media there are options for text, audio, video, virtual worlds and gaming platforms.

In the past, campaigns have been forced to to make specific and targeted choices because of budgetary restrictions and target audiences. Affordability and accessibility have opened the social media fire hose. This leads to the danger that campaigns and candidates will attempt to be all things to all people in all places. Spreading efforts too thin can be disastrous.

Which brings us to the second major consideration.

DIGITAL CULTURE (not Canadian culture online)

The online world is very different than what politics and advocacy are familiar with. Traditional broadcast and engagement tactics don’t work the same way because digital culture is made up of active participants rather than passive consumers.

Campaigns and candidates must do research to understand their target audiences and how they segment, organize and interact online. Which ideas do they discuss (and which are top of mind)? What content do they create, consume and share? What resonates with them? What language do they use? Who is most active? Where are your impact networks and who are the key and secondary influencers? Who are the doers? What do the know about you and your goals? What do they misunderstand about you and your goals?

With few exceptions, we saw in the first two weeks of the election that there’s a keen interest to exploit the tools with little awareness of how to be a member of the online community. For a country that’s developing policy on the digital economy, candidates need to demonstrate they understand the nuances of the social and transactional ecosystem.