I'm at the Politics Online conference parts of today and tomorrow, and this session on using social media in campaigns was the first one I attended. True to the fact that politics is more than individual campaigns for office, a lot of the discussion was about Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom, a Facebook group for people who tried to attend the Obama Inauguration and instead were stuck for hours in the Third Street Tunnel. The panelists also talked about Save the Rich (influencing coverage of the recent tea parties) and the Metagovernment project (open source government).
Observations from the discussion about Facebook:
- For messaging, Groups are far more effective than Pages (now Public Profiles). In particular, with a Group your supporters can create self-organized subgroups and have their own conversations more easily.
- Facebook Groups are less useful again than a Google Group - but only your most committed supporters will sign up outside Facebook.
- Traditional media drives social media behavior: the Purple Tunnel Group was set up a couple hours after the inauguration, named after a Foreign Policy Magazine writer's blog headline, and was big enough early on that it made it into media coverage of the Inauguration problems. And then it grew even faster.
- Facebook is good for turning people out to events. But people don't give money on Facebook, where it's not clear whether they don't trust Facebook, don't trust the Causes app, or just think fundraising "isn't what Facebook is for."
And about Twitter:
- Don't underestimate a "tweet this" button on your website - you never know who has a Twitter account, especially this week.
- Retweeting others from an organizational account often gets thanks. People are surprised there's an actual human behind the account and pleased to be endorsed by the group.
- Twitter isn't good at debates, and it's hard to move a debate elsewhere (see above about few people signing up outside Facebook). [My observation: it works pretty well for interviews, though, so maybe we just need to try organized debates with rules for who speaks when?]
- Consider constraining your topics, in general or at particular times. It's unlikely you'll follow people when you only care about one of their five hobbyhorses. On the other hand, Autism Twitter Day worked well, because it was people who didn't normally discuss autism and only for one day. You were already following them for other reasons, and being flooded with autism information for a day wasn't enough to make you unfollow them. [I think of conferences the same way sometimes.] And in the process you learned something.
And what I thought was most interesting, about networks in general:
- It's very hard to introduce a campaign on a social media site if you don't already have a network there. You can't just appear and say, "Everyone has to listen to this!" But if you already have connections, they'll probably help out - retweet, etc.
- You never know how large your second-level network is. You can see how many friends each of your friends has on Facebook, or how many followers each of your followers has on Twitter, but as soon as someone learns about you in one place and then spreads the word somewhere else, you don't know how far you can reach.
Thanks to moderator Andrew Turner and panelists Marisa McNee, Dave Meyer, and Ed Pastore for an interesting session.