It’s that time again: a presidential election year! President Barack Obama has set new ground rules since his election a few years ago; running for President requires different tactics than it used to, especially prior to the social media boom. President Obama has used social media very successfully and is known as the first US president using the platform for campaign purposes, which made it more interesting for other politicians to start exploring.

The benefits of social media for political campaigns are impressive; however, I believe that all politicians should have a social media expert on their side, preventing them from making very public and irreversible mistakes. Do you remember the Anthony Weiner (former democratic congressman) scandal? He sent some so-called “lewd” photos to women on Twitter and thought these messages were private. That was his first mistake. He then claimed his Twitter account was hacked and denied sending any of the pictures, which was strike two. After this whole situation led to a media frenzy, he admitted his mistake, publicly apologized and announced his resignation.

Some would argue that it’s best to wait before you respond to similar allegations and others feel like it’s important to respond in a timely manner, but I think situations like these could be easily prevented. Politicians need to realize social media should never be taken lightly as it carries the power to amplify your message, or seriously damage your career. A well-prepared and thorough social media crisis management strategy would be a wise tip for all politicians engaging in the social world.

So, how transparent can a politician be? Based on the fact that a politician is representing a political party, he or she should always make sure that the content shared has great political value for their (online) supporters. They should address political issues and take credible standpoints if they wish to be taken seriously. Can they share personal information? I think they can and they should as this humanizes them and allows their supporters to identify, and thus build relationships with them. Nevertheless, information that is too private and has no political value whatsoever should not go public. This is another aspect the social media manager can (and should) consult with.

Politicians have recognized the importance of social media engagement and are now competing in a way the audience has never been able to witness before. Social media allows voters to directly respond and communicate with candidates on a very public level, which makes it a lot easier for other voters to follow conversations and discussions and help them shape their opinions and ideas about politicians. All of these tips have potential regarding engagement with constituents:

-          Reach: Social media is available around most part of the world–all you need is reliable internet access with no serious restrictions. There are no state borders on social media; politicians can reach voters all over the country. This also means that people who live outside the U.S. are able to follow them on Twitter or Facebook as well. This can result in global opinions and a possible sense of pressure, although it doesn’t counter the fact that U.S. politicians are targeting U.S. citizens. Nevertheless, having a wide reach increases the chances of content being spread.

-          Cost-effective: This is probably one of the most important benefits of using social media as it generally does not require paid subscriptions for anyone to participate. In that regard, the investment one would have in social media would consist of time and assuring this time is well-spent. One tweet can go viral and can possibly leave a bigger impression with voters than any TV commercial could; this is where the power of social media lies.

-          Generating campaign donations: Getting positive online publicity is also an effective way to gain donations. How? By simply adding a donation button to the networks, politicians enable supporters to easily make an online donation. According to the Washington Post, President Barack Obama raised half a billion dollars using this online method during his campaign, which I believe to be quite remarkable. In his 2012 reelection campaign, he is adding the Square technology to donation methods and this is likely to raise more money for the campaign as it enables iPhone and Android users alike to make donations.

-          Building trust: Building trust is strongly related to the connection politicians create with their voters in a social network. For example, the more a politician tweets on Twitter, the more people will feel like they know the politician and this is ultimately what they aim to gain from voters.

Overall, well-prepared social media strategies are not impossible to develop, especially if a politician has a competent social media team/manager by his side. No new social territories should be entered without proper preparation, as President Obama so well understands when he started hanging out on Google+.  Being prepared and having a solid plan will lower the chances of crossing any socially acceptable lines.

What do you think of politicians using social media? Is it better than traditional campaigns? I would love to read about it in the comments!