I recently met with a sitting Member of Parliament (who shall remain nameless) to discuss his social media operations. The MP in question wanted me to provide some advice to him and his staff on how best to engage their local constituents in the online space. While I will list out the advice I offered him and his team, what I found interesting was where he told me things were at.
Like most elected officials, this MP has engaged in traditional communications: phone banks, direct mail (such as householders) and traditional local advertising. Over the last 2-3 years, he is reporting a sharp decrease in the response rate across the board. In fact, he recognized that while the price of these traditional methods of communication stays constant (or increases), the rate of return continues to fall.
So, the MP has recognized that his constituents are increasingly looking for information online and that they expect to be able to engage with him and his office on the Internet. This is a key element of social media engagement for elected officials: if it is to be successful, the direction must come from the top. So, the MP at hand in already ahead of the game.
Here are the key pieces of advice I offered to the MP and his staff, which are broadly applicable to those in the political/advocacy space:
- Announcements and speeches are fine, but they are table stakes now. To really stand out with your constituents, you need to actively engage with them while presenting information that is valuable to them – not you;
- Your social media channels are only outposts – the website should be the main hub of operations;
- Your email list, not your followers, is the most important (and underutilized) asset you have. Use every opportunity to promote it and grow it;
- You don’t need to be on every channel. Pick the ones your constituents are active on and build on that platform;
- As discussed in this report, Canadians love getting their news from online video. Wherever possible, produce video as part of your communications plans.
Of course, it takes a plan to execute these tactics, as well as a will to see them done. As I told the MP and the staff I met with, building a valuable and active community can’t be done overnight. But even deciding to make it a priority is a first step – one I hope more elected officials take.