A Follow-Up Conversation with Kari Chisholm of Mandate Media on Digital Strategies for Electeds

  • Apr 5, 2013
  • meredith
Thank you to everyone at Emerge that joined me for the webinar on how to use social media to grow your online audience and turn them into engaged activists.
Watch the video (slides + audio) of my presentation here.
I was able to answer a bunch of questions, but there were a few left hanging when time ran out.  Here’s some short takes. If you’ve got your own question not addressed here, feel free to contact me directly.
From Joanie: Using Social Media sites, such as Facebook, to  hold online live forums seems like a good way to reach younger voters. What do you think of that method? How to handle when the comments and questions get overwhelmed by hostile participants?
Kari: Well, for starters, keep in mind that Facebook is certainly NOT exclusively about reaching young people. In our experience, most political campaigns have fans with a median age in the mid-40s.
As for live online forums, go for it!  You can do live Facebook forums, Twitter town halls, or Google+ video forums. The most important thing is to experiment, to test, to see what works for you and for your audience.  
I wouldn’t spend a lot of time worrying about hostile participants. They may show up, but the key is to ignore them.  Now, if someone disagrees with you respectfully, engage them. Answer their questions. But ignore the trolls and cranks who are there to disrupt, not discuss.
From Kathleen: Do you think there is any risk in losing a vibe of “professionalism” or objective credibility in “acting online as you act offline”? Where do you think that line is for, say, a progressive non-partisan policy institute that focuses much more on research than advocacy?
Kari: Well, I’d say that professionalism and credibility come from the content of your messages – not a formal, stilted, or bureaucratic tone. If no one is listening to you because your tone is off-putting, then you’re failing to achieve your communications goals.
Everyone — especially research-oriented policy institutes — should focus on communicating clearly, making tough topics approachable, and speaking in a personal tone of voice. It’s hard enough to get folks to listen to policy discussions – if you want folks to listen, then you gotta make it easy, interesting, and compelling.
From Paul: How might campaigns target constituencies lower on the spectrum of political engagement and move them up the ladder of engagement?
Kari: Well, that’s the whole challenge, isn’t it?  
The key is to keep testing, experimenting, and tracking all your data. Your goal is to figure out what motivates different segments of your list.  
Are there particular issues they care about?  Or are there particular action modalities – such as petitions, letters, Facebook shares, etc.? Do they respond well to your principal communicator (candidate or executive director), or do you need to find better-known surrogates to make the call-to-action?
Of course, the answer won’t be the same for everyone, so you’ve got to stay on top of your data and put every responder in a different “bucket” — then you’ll know how to turn people to action.
From Judy: Can you identify a politician who uses all of these tools effectively?
Kari: Barack Obama!
OK, sorry, that was a little digital consultant humor.  (Every campaign wants every consultant to sprinkle a little Obama magic around – nevermind staffing, budget, or Air Force One.)
Well, to start by mentioning a client of my own, we’ve worked with Senator Jeff Merkley to grow his email list ten-fold over the last couple of years. And we did it almost entirely by partnering with allies on petitions.
With 1.3 million followers, Mayor Cory Booker is a star on Twitter. He does a great job engaging with folks locally and nationally. If I had one complaint, it’s that from time to time he sounds like a fortune cookie – but it seems to work for him. Of course, I sometimes wonder if all those folks following him are just waiting for the next Cory Booker: Superhero moment.
I’m a big fan of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Facebook page. It’s policy-driven, personal and authentic, and consistently gives her fans stuff to talk about.
Of course, I’ve identified one thing that each of these folks do really well, rather than answering your question directly. But I think that’s right: most folks are investing their time, energy, and resources in those tools that work best for their campaign and are the right strategic fit.  
Don’t try to do everything well all at once. If I had to be pick and choose, I’d focus first and foremost on building an email list.  Second, on Facebook. Third… well, more email and Facebook.  And fourth, or maybe fifth, Twitter.