A slightly controversial question, perhaps, and for some a waste of time; why wouldn’t politics have a place? But let’s look at the principles behind politics – and the principles behind social media…
Obama was the first high profile politician to use social media successfully in his campaigning. So the answer, simply, could be yes. But what Obama did well in the first instance was to take his position as a politician (small ‘p’) seriously and recognise and understand how he might be able to affect change. He was already engaged in Twitter and social media channels prior to campaigning; using them as a barometer for popular opinion and to gauge reactions to initiatives and ideals. Obama was already a seasoned user, understood how the channels work and he already had an audience following him which he capitalised on.
If we look at more recent uses of social media by political figures, for instance by the London Mayoral candidates as well as many of our MPs, however, there seems to be an extraordinary level of broadcasting via social media, which misses the point of the channel entirely.
Social media is not about broadcasting or selling. The sheer nature of social media is that people elect what they want to listen to, read and engage with. You can’t make people listen; they’ll just switch off or delete you. This is why selling via social media is a misnomer. Social media is about garnering information, knowledge, opinion and it’s about engagement. And this doesn’t change for politicians. If they persist in using social media to broadcast their ideals they run the risk of people perceiving their messages as propaganda.
There has been some interesting industry commentary on the London Mayoral Candidates’ use of social media and video and where many believe that Sadiq Khan’s use was the best – it was of a bad lot…Unfortunately, considering how social media should be used, the Lib Dems, Conservatives and Labour all got it wrong.
Zac Goldsmith went full throttle down the propaganda route, broadcasting at full volume and rather than show that he was listening to Londoners about what they want, his channels showed him talking – incessantly – supported by promotional messages clearly written by marketers whom I propose have backgrounds in product marketing… Caroline Pidgeon proffered a relatively good video which featured the actual voices of Londoners, but you couldn’t ignore the promotional ‘spin’ on the messages. Sadly, she is relatively inactive on social media, so she didn’t have much presence or substance behind her video – and very few followers, so very few saw it. Sadiq Khan at least has an impressive number of people following and engaging with him on social media. Where he could have fared better is by continuing to engage on an honest level with his supporters, rather than switching to ‘campaign mode’.
And this is the fundamental error that many make. So many people consider social media in the context of a ‘campaign’, whereas they should see it as a cornerstone of their communication these days. Social media is more about what you can get from the people engaging with you, than you getting messages out. Think reputation, influence and profile, rather than sales and followers.