“Democracy is the worst form of government….except for all the others that have been tried”. 

                                                                                                                  – Winston Churchill


With an upcoming election cycle, we are about to find out just how true that statement is. Parties, people and pundits will get on television, radio and social media and scream to the world how their candidate represents only the best of the country and their opponent, the very worst. Men and women who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, in government jobs or the private sector, will sit down with ‘real Americans’ who will detail the hardships of life. Some of them will be seen eating a hot dog. Some of them will drink an excessive amount of beer. All of them will be kissing babies. The babies will cry, I guarantee it.

But as the candidates begin to criss-cross the country in buses and planes they will spend their time listening. They will listen to their constituents, to their advisors and their opponents. They will reflect and react to the different stories and tales that people tell them. They’ll listen to their polling numbers and adjust their strategies in various ways. They’ll divert money from ‘safe’ areas into areas where it could have more of an impact. Such the reality of life on the campaign trail.

However, only recently has the election process been fundamentally altered. In 2008, when Hillary Clinton was last running for President, social media was considered a secondary media outlet compared to television, radio and newspapers. In 2015, it has become a staple of any election campaign. Every single candidate is on Twitter and Facebook whilst others populate Instagram and even SnapChat. Many campaigns learnt the hard way that to get to a new generation of voters, they have to change their tactics.

The People Want You To Talk WITH Them

But how can politicians take advantage of the power of social media? Many of them use the various social networks to announce their bids to run for President, Congressman, Mayor or Dog Catcher. From there, they either leave their social accounts dormant or simply use it as a platform to tell people about where they can see the candidate. ‘Broadcasting’ is one of the fundamental mistakes that all brands, be they candidates or companies, make in tackling social media. They believe that people will like, favourite or retweet their material simply because it’s there. They think that social media is similar to television, radio or newspaper where it’s  a one-way conversation. The fact of the matter is that social media is a fundamentally different platform to anything else in that it allows both the brand and the consumer (or voter) to have a conversation. Very few politicians take advantage of the power of social media, fewer still do it correctly.

It’s not possible for Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush or Bernie Sanders to sit down on Twitter every night and converse with their followers (or detractors). However, it is a platform that should be utilized by the campaign as a place to inform, debate and discuss issues of the day. Many of the campaigns simply retweet favourable or cute pictures from supporters but don’t use it as a communication platform. Now and then they’ll use Facebook, Twitter, Reddit or other services to host a Q and A session with the candidate. These are few and far between (and often heavily edited in regards to the questions picked) and are often for publicity purposes rather than messaging. Candidates should assign ‘social media spokespeople’ who can speak on behalf of the campaign. Social spokespeople will allow the campaign’s message to be broadcast throughout the digital sphere as the candidate shakes hands and kisses babies.

God Gave Us Two Ears and One Mouth

If you talk to anyone in social media, they will tell you that it is a platform that relies on listening. However, for political candidates, that can be a gold mine. Social media is truly beyond powerful. It can allow you to monitor and engage with countless voters in your constituency and beyond. Powerful social listening software, which Transcend Social employs, allows you not just to view tweets, Facebook posts or keywords but to determine the sentiment of the post, how influential the poster is and even what street they were on. This allows for highly targeted listening and engagement campaigns which gives candidates the ability to feel the pulse of the people before making any major policy announcements. Being able to identify, recruit and deploy social influencers will make any candidates life on social media that much smoother.

The fact of the matter is that candidates ignored social media at their peril in 2008. This allowed the young, upstart and energetic Barack Obama to come from behind and claim the Presidency. In 2015, all politicians should embrace the digital revolution to get their message across all mediums. The question is whether or not they will use it as a platform to broadcast or as a unique opportunity to engage.