What Social Media Marketers Can Learn From The 2012 Presidential Campaign

Social Media Is About Your Entire Message

On the eve of the 2012 political conventions, let’s examine five social media lessons the Presidential Campaign has given marketers and business executives regardless of their political views. While several candidates garnered media attention with their discussion of Etch-A-Sketch do-overs, the reality is that candidates, like brands and businesses, have less control over the direction of the public conversation both in real life and on social media platforms than most would admit. 

To get your business’s social media strategy on track, here are five social media lessons learned on the campaign trail to-date and five Actionable Marketing Tactics to respond appropriately.

  1. Define your brand before your competitors do. After Governor Romney secured the Republican nomination, he neglected to structure his brand and allowed President Obama to fill the void. If you don’t provide guidance regarding your brand, your competitors will. Once you’ve been assigned a position, it’s hard to change it in your prospect’s minds. Actionable Social Media Tactic: Determine your brand including social media before you start. (Need help with developing your brand? Here’s a brand checklist.) Once your product or business is public, you no longer own it. People will create their own shorthand for your brand if you don’t. For example, Ravelry is “Facebook for knitters, crocheters and spinners.”
  2. Be consistent in what you say and do. Voters are like consumers. You need to repeat your message to ensure it gets through and builds trust. Changing your views and contradicting yourself, as Romney is known to do, doesn’t make you trustworthy. This is bad for both politics and business. Actionable Social Media Tactic: From a business perspective, establish social media guidelines. Make it easy for your employees by giving them a structure to follow. This is particularly important when it comes to social media. You want employees to know what they can and can’t do on social media platforms.
  3. Be transparent. In addition to hindering his ability to build trust, Romney’s unwillingness to sharing his taxes reveals a lack of transparency in his public dealings. This is an important element at the heart of social media.  Collectively, the public can draw its own conclusions about Romney’s taxes. Actionable Social Media Tactic: In today’s social media ecosystem, the public expects you to act with a level of openness. The public knows Romney’s a very wealthy man. From a social media perspective, the problem is what is he hiding that’s so bad he doesn’t want his taxes made public? Further, being transparent doesn’t mean pointing out every problem in public forums as Romney did at the London Olympics. You need to be considerate of other people.
  4. Think about the context in which your message appears. Where you place your message influences how your audience understands or even hears it. For example, Romney’s announcement of his running mate, Paul Ryan, on USS Wisconsin, while cute since Ryan is from Wisconsin, had other implications. Namely, it spotlighted two men, neither of whom served in the military, in a military setting. Additionally, it made the association with President George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” announcement by a non-military man in a military setting. Actionable Social Media Tactic: Carefully consider where you place your marketing messages to maximize their impact. Further, get feedback from your target audience to ensure they understand and appreciate your context.
  5. Address potential PR firestorms head on. Romney’s refusal to share his tax returns hoping the issue would vanish is a lot like the way many executives handle PR firestorms. It feeds the fire. Like Romney, instead of vanishing, your opponents keep the issue alive. Whatever Romney is hiding has to be very bad or he’d share it. Actionable Social Media Tactic: With most social media firestorms, act quickly to understand the issue that’s gotten people upset and address it head on. In most cases, trying to ignore the problem won’t make it better. Soothe any upset parties where appropriate.

Public figures, whether they’re political candidates, brands or businesses will always have detractors. The challenge is to create your brand and social media presence well at the start and show your target audience you appreciate them by being transparent and human in your dealings.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


Please note that any comments about supporting one candidate or another will be removed. This is a marketing forum not a political one.

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Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

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