This round of local elections were interesting for me as I watched in January my twitter feed being swamped with tweets of election hopefuls announcing their candidacy for the various wards in the upcoming election. Ever since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, candidates have looked to social media to promote themselves and their issues. Now, the impact of this is debatable, I think that for local government elections, social media is a nice stocking filler for candidates. It helps local journalists follow their activities and might help them gain some publicity if one of their tweets gets picked up by a newspaper. Yet, despite the positive results that can be gained from social media, many candidates here, are to put it charitably, tone deaf when it comes to Twitter.
So, providing the valuable public service that we do here on Slugger, I thought I would do up some social media do’s and don’ts for our local candidates.
- NEVER NEVER NEVER- utter the phrase ‘Great response on the doors tonight’ or ‘Great canvass today.’ This fools nobody into thinking that you’re electable. I have done canvassing in various places and I have yet to encounter a time, when every single door I have opened was positive. Most people on Twitter can smell BS when it is presented to them and this type of tweet stinks to high heavens.
- Never put something on Twitter/Facebook that you wouldn’t want your grandfather to read- This statement will stand you in good stead throughout the campaign. I have seen a few Unionist candidates get into some trouble, by showing us their poetic talents over the recent political troubles during the Adams saga. If you put something up, it takes just a second to screenshot it and then makes it go viral. There is an added warning on this now with groups like LAD fishing around for this type of material.
- Don’t just open an account and put out press releases-It never ceases to amaze me how bad some political parties are in this regard. Press releases going out are fine, but don’t limit your account to simply that. You should view your tweets and statements online as a de-facto press release and use them in that regard.
- This leads to my next point-interactivity. The best politicians on Twitter are those who interact with people. So, for example on Claire Hanna’s motion on the living wage, I tweeted her some questions I had about how this would be funded and within an hour she responded to me with information answering my queries. Likewise, I have had interactions with other politicians who have been good in debating with me and keeping civil tone.
Although with interactivity I must put in a health warning-you need to be careful about what debates you get sucked into and how you respond to them. You should never lose your cool online, if you find yourself getting angry, put down the phone or switch off the computer. Nobody wants to vote for a person who is either very angry or comes across on Twitter like a nutcase. You do yourself no favours, save the passion and energy for the doorstep.
- Last point is personality-the reason I think politicians like Niall Ó Donnghaile, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir , Claire Hanna, Izzy Giles and Lee Reynolds do so well on Twitter is that they actually show who they really are. They tweet about their daily lives and what goes on in their families. It is ok to do this and people like to know and see that side of who they are voting for. Like the first point, people can see authenticity and that comes across on Twitter.
None of this is of course a substitute for hitting the doors and delivering on the ground. But, used properly it can complement what you do and can help you gain wider coverage for your issues.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs