By: Paul Bentz
My church worships at a high school in the west valley. It’s a great facility in an excellent location that allows our congregation to connect with the community. For me, it’s also an opportunity to revisit high school culture and get an understanding of what’s “cool” these days. Actually, since the kids aren’t there on Sundays, I just get to look at the various posters on the walls and attempt to discern what’s cool.
Anyway, it is class election time for next year and it has been a lot of fun to see where the future of campaigning is going. The poster that really caught my eye was this one:
For those of you who don’t know, that’s called a hashtag. Hashtags are metadata “tags” that allow people and programs to search or categorize social media posts based on topics. They are huge on twitter, tumblr, instagram, and are starting to grow in popularity on Facebook. Hashtags were really nothing as recently as four years ago, and now determining the official “tag” for a press conference is sometimes considered as important as the conference itself.
Social media is now a major part of the campaign toolbox. As I have said before, today, we wouldn’t launch a campaign without the full Twitter/Facebook/YouTube complement. Social media is how we interact with media, engage supporters, and how we help people get a better understanding of a candidate or issue. It can also help build momentum bypassing some of the media gatekeepers of the past. If high school elections are doing it, it may be time to start paying attention. If you want to win younger voters in the current campaign environment, you have to do social media well.
However, time for a reality check. Winning the young voters alone is still not enough. Over half of the electorate in the State of Arizona is over the age of 50. At least twenty percent of the electorate is going to feel like this about social media:
Traditional voter outreach including direct mail, phone calls, door-to-door, and yes, even autodials are still critical to a campaign plan. Older voters still check the mailbox every day. And yes, most of them still have a home phone. These trends will change one day, but for now, we still need to communicate in these avenues.
The same goes for a developed understanding of policy and explanations of positions. High efficacy voters, especially older ones, will take the time to read longer issue platforms. They want to know the substance behind your 140 character responses. It doesn’t need to be a manifesto, but you should be able to collect your ideas into thoughts expressed in complete sentences. Also, the persona you represent in social media must be the same one you represent in traditional mediums as well.
Communications are changing all the time. We must incorporate these new methods while keeping an eye on the demographics you are trying to hit. One day, hashtags will be passé. Who knows, Facebook may one day go the way of Myspace. The key is not to fall in love with the method of communication, but rather, to cultivate messages that can translate across any medium.