Posts Tagged ‘campaigning

08
Jun
12

Twitter is a tool: Use it wisely. – A guest post from Becky Walker

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Having spent a sizeable chunk of the last two years researching the relationships between social media and political organisations, activists and representatives, I am well trained in objective introductions. However, given a public forum, the temptation to evangelise is high, so I will keep it short. The internet is not going to go away, and neither is social media. There will be gaffes, there always are, but that is certainly not new, and it is not a reason to shy away. Twitter, Facebook, Youtube; these all allow for the maximum control over your own content, and it takes seconds to proof-read your output. Used well, social media is not only an image management tool, but has the ability to revitalise debate and build awareness, be it of a specific campaign or of the workings of our political system.

There are no rules, as such, but I thought I would share some of the guidelines and tips I’ve collected for activists, representatives and campaign groups on Twitter.

The closest to a golden rule for representatives, that I have heard, came from Adam Sharp, Twitter’s government liaison in the U.S. and leader of their government, news and social innovation team, at a teach-in event for parliamentarians in Westminster, “be yourself; Twitter users see through anything else.”

Secondly, interaction is key. Twitter is designed for communication and engagement, but if users see no likelihood of receiving a response from an account, they are less likely to engage with it. There is no harm in using Twitter in part as an events feed to keep people up to date, but only some of this will be of interest to followers and it can be very dry. In the Labour movement in particular, a lot of credit is given to the most personal campaign techniques. There is no substitute for conversing with people, and although it is difficult to achieve the same response as on the doorstep, online contact has the potential to be very effective.

On the other hand, don’t feed the trolls. One of the benefits of social media is that you can pick your battles and step out of a debate if it becomes clear you’re talking to someone who is just out for a fight. No one ever comes out of these arguments well, so let it go. If you are in a constructive debate, but are running up against the 140 character limit, services like TwitLonger and TMIme will let you make more lengthy and detailed comments and can be integrated into most Twitter apps.

Add pictures, links, video or audio to add interest to tweets, particularly relating to events.

Do not repeat yourself ad nauseam. If people didn’t pay attention to a tweet the first time, posting it again and again will not achieve anything. If the original was posted late at night, or in the middle of the working day, reposting when more are browsing is generally not frowned upon, but otherwise it gets tedious fast. The same goes for organisations seeking RTs from, usually, high profile users. Many have a general policy not to RT requests as it deters their own users, so constant hassle is unproductive and will leave your appearing feed repetitive, desperate and boring.

If you are an organisation or an activist, don’t be afraid to search for those talking about your area of interest and engage with them. If you are a representative, a search is only dangerous if you’re thin skinned, but engaging with those who have usually chosen not to @mention you tends to require a certain amount of gravitas and cool.

Use hashtags to help people find you., and saved searches for relevant issues are useful for you to find people, as are localised searches under the advanced search operators if you’re only interested in a particular area (eg; “Labour Party” near:Manchester within:20mi).

Lists can help to make your feed more usable. If you are a representative with time, patience or a willing volunteer, creating a list of constituents is a more precise equivalent of the localised search, and can allow you to keep your main feed tidy while not ignoring constituent followers. The same could be done for any number of groups, from journalists, to activists, to friends.

I could go on, but this is the most important advice I tend to dish out. Most of it will seem fairly obvious to regular users, and there is in no substitute for becoming an active user, learning through trial and error, but as with any new medium the fear of error often outweighs the willingness to try, and so hopefully this will help to redress the balance for the apprehensive and increase effectiveness for the struggling. All social media is made up of human interactions, so listen to your audience, don’t ignore them.

Becky is a soon-to-be Hull Politics graduate specialising in the Labour Party’s ideological history and the use of the internet in British politics, an Ex Parliamentary intern for a Labour MP and a Queer Labour member in West Lancashire.

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