The first rule of marketing is that you go where the customers are—so it’s no surprise when millions (billions?) of people use social media that politicians start using it too. But politicians can also teach us a thing or two about how to use social media promotion effectively—and how social media, if used wrong, can ruin us.
Once Public, Always Public
A number of high-publicity social media mistakes—including Anthony Weiner’s Twitter-sexting—reveal that not all social media publicity is good publicity.
The problem with social media and the web in general is that mistakes don’t tend to fade away—especially big mistakes. They remain in plain sight for anyone who searches for them. So an unhappy customer or a poor choice of words can haunt you forever.
Unlike you, politicians don’t usually have to worry about unhappy customers—anyone who complains about how a politician does his job gets labeled as an opponent and their opinion is disregarded by supporters. Also, politicians tend to have professional public relations experts to filter what they say (or write it for them in the first place) so they don’t make many embarrassing gaffes.
You, on the other hand, will have to make your own way. If you occasionally have an unhappy customer or you know you sometimes say something unpopular, you may want to avoid public social media accounts—or you may want to hire someone to manage your accounts for you.
Living In The Present Tense
More than 2,000 years ago, the philosopher Aristotle pointed out the value of tense in rhetoric. Past tense, he said, is used by those who want to blame somebody; future tense is used those who want us to make choices; but the present tense, Aristotle explained, belongs to politicians who want us to join together with them or hate a common enemy.
As the best known politician in the world, President Obama illustrates this principle. I quickly pulled up his Twitter feed and 9 out of 10 of the most recent tweets were in the present tense. This isn’t a bad thing or a good thing—all savvy politicians and political writers do it because it works. (Again, Aristotle’s insights are nothing new.)
How can you use the present tense, or any of the tenses? Use Aristotle’s ancient advice.
- If you want to make someone feel bad (blame), use the past tense. “@ExampleCorp ruined my order.”
- If you want to find a solution to something, use the future tense. This is especially useful when someone starts blaming you—if you can move the conversation into the future tense, you can deal with the problem instead of just getting blamed for it. “How can we fix your order?”
- If you want people to join together with you or separate from from another group, use the present tense. “Boycot @ExampleCorp!” (The now is implied.)
Special Social Media Events
Politicians are always having special social media events, such as Google Hangouts, Q&A sessions, Facebook Chats, and more. Although you’ll hear about major politicians holding these events, even minor politicians use them to good effect.
A special event helps attract new followers and friends—and even opponents. (For a politician, where opponents are inevitable, having opponents can be good—when your opponent makes a mistake, you can capitalize on it; when your opponent asks somebody else what they think, they may decide they like you more than your opponent.)
Special events can help you too—perhaps even more than they help a major politician. For example, there’s practically no way President Obama could double his Twitter followers overnight—but you can easily double your followers or even increase them 100 times over if your special event goes viral.
I’ve seen several charts which show the immediate and long term effects of a special events on websites (not social media), and in every case, the traffic rapidly increases for the special event—and then it rapidly falls off, but (here’s the catch) it never goes down to its original level. Sites which have special events always have more everyday traffic after the event than they did before.
I suspect the same works for social media—you may get a lot of attention during the special event, and you may lose most of that attention after it’s over, but you’ll still be better off than when you started—and that’s the goal.
Here are some special events:
- Join a new social media network. Try to get 50% of the number of followers you have on your top social media network to follow you on the new network—offer your followers a special reward if you meet your goal.
- If you usually just microblog, do something different—a text chat, conference call, video chat, or something else.
- Do a Reddit-style ask-me-anything for a limited time. Announce the time in advance and hype it up. Remember—you’re a unique person with unique experience, and you can share that with other people. You’re not boring and no matter how inexperienced you are at your profession, there are people with less experience who want to learn from you.
Except when they’re sexting, politicians are usually very graceful on social media. That’s probably because they have highly-paid public relations consultants posting for them—but it’s something you can do for yourself.
One great way to appear graceful even when you’re seething is to use a social media buffer program such as BufferApp. You write your tweet, post, or whatever in the most polite language you can manage while you’re still passionate—and then you schedule the post for a day or two in the future. Now you’ve both vented your rage and given yourself some time to cool down before the post goes live.
If you decide that you don’t want to look like an angry idiot in front of all of your customers, you have a day or two to revise your post. If you’re still angry enough to post a few days later, then you might have a legitimate point which needs to be made in strong terms.
Politicians need to appear graceful, but some business owners can get away with less suave conversation. If you give yourself some time to cool off before your post goes live, you can deliberately choose whether you want to be known as graceful or as a hard ass.