Now that the midterm elections are over, political ads might be the last thing you want to think about — at least until primary season rolls around in 2012. But if you’re interested in using social-media tools to rally others to support your cause — or even your brand — maybe you should take another look at what politicians have been up to in the social-media space.
Having more Facebook connections is far from the same as having more votes — several high-profile candidates with larger Facebook communities lost last night — but having the capacity to create and nurture those ties goes a long way toward keeping the base fired up.
David All Group Vice President Jake Ward says that right now, Facebook isn’t being used to connect with every last voter — it’s being used to stoke the passions of true believers who will then go out and act as evangelists, rallying others to your side. Ward estimates that social tools are great for connecting with the roughly 1% of voters who are most engaged in your contest. Those people can be used to make your case to another 9% of the electorate — giving you a solid base of highly engaged supporters that you can mobilize to win over the rest of the crowd.
“It’s like that old joke: Why are you preaching to the choir? Because that’s how you get them to sing,” he says.
What does that have to do with corporate social-media marketing? Ward argues that the two are more alike than they are different, because they rest on common principles of building reach, engagement and empowerment. “The key to both … is finding your brand activists, the people who already believe in what you’re selling,” he says.
Of course, there are meaningful differences, he notes. Brands are harder to relate to than politicians. All manners of jokes about politicians being out of touch with the real world aside, these are still human beings with stories and passions and ideas that can touch and inspire people in a way that logos just don’t. Policy positions aren’t usually very exciting — but the reasons why a political leader will embrace a given policy can be riveting, because they’re often tied to real human experiences. Brands can tap into that power by using social media to tell the story of how and why they do what they do.
But that’s only half the battle, Ward says. The best politicians — Ward points to President Ronald Reagan — have a knack for telling stories about others as way of explaining the importance of their policies. Rather than just making it about themselves and their ideas, great politicians can turn the script around and make the campaign about the voters. If a corporate brand wants to be able to tap into the power of storytelling, it needs to be able to do the same thing, refocusing on how the brand affects its customers. Social tools can be a powerful way to collect and then share those stories. “It’s about the way a product makes you feel,” he says.
Not everything from the world of politics can be adapted to corporate social-media marketing, however. While politicians often “go negative” and run adds attacking each other personally, such tactics would be a hard sell for corporate social-media marketers. Communities tend to spring up around common passion that can unite and inspire people. “I’m not so sure that works in reverse,” Ward says.
While brands can benefit from studying how politicians use social channels to create narratives, there’s at least one thing that politicians are going to have to adopt from the world of corporate social media, Ward says. “Politicians need to learn to listen more. … When you run for office now, there’s the expectation that you won’t just create the infrastructure to listen — you’ll actually do it.”