As we get closer to municipal elections, I see more and more candidates jumping on Twitter to start conversations – and that’s awesome. I think it’s great that candidates are finally recognizing that they need to have those conversations online and reach a broader base of voters. What’s not so awesome is when candidates create their own hashtags, for example #hardwickformayor (no, I’m not running for mayor anytime soon).
Here’s a few reasons why I would not recommend creating your own hashtag – unless of course, you’re a Twitter superstar. Hashtags are where conversations happen – positive and negative. When you create a hashtag you’re assuming people will congregate on it. Well, one of three things will happen:
1. Positive conversations and debates
Your new hashtag dedicated to your own campaign will be extremely successful. Everyone will jump onboard, have constructive conversations and/or debate with you, share your message with their followers and let the world (or at least your city or town) know how you’ll be a great politician. Awesome.
2. You get ignored
People will ignore your hashtag, you’ll have no conversations on Twitter and you’ll look like a nobody. Why? Simple. People who go to your customized hashtag will see that no one is talking on it except you (and hopefully your team). People will assume that you’ve got nothing of interest or value to say and won’t join in the conversation about your campaign. And that’s not so awesome – it’s a lost opportunity to have a conversation with voters.
3. Hashtag hijacked
Politics is a blood sport, even more so now with social media. If you’re going to start your own hashtag – beware you could be hijacked. Your opponent(s), voters or someone just looking to cause problems can completely take over what was supposed to be a positive conversation with nasty comments which may or may not be true, knock down your policy ideas, make you and your new hashtag look like you have no idea what you stand for.
Once the hijacking begins, it’s largely out of your control. The same people that are checking out your hashtag conversation will notice what’s going on, maybe get involved or not and worst off the media will usually pick up on the negative conversations on social media, rather than positive one because they are way more exciting. Again not very awesome.
Recently the John Tory campaign decided it would be a great idea to start their own hashtag, #askjohntory. Tory’s campaign learned pretty quickly when it backfired that it wasn’t such a great idea.
Asked 5 serious questions & none were answered “@johntoryTO Had a great time answering your questions today! #askjohntory #TOpoli“
— SharkDancing (@SharkDancing) May 2, 2014
#askjohntory is getting the #myNYPD treatment. Did no one on his social media team see this one coming? Rookies.
— Septembre Anderson (@SeptembreA) May 2, 2014
And these are the more polite tweets. At least he’s not Robin Thicke. Now that is a hashtag gone awry.
Do some research, go where the fish are
Twitter is about conversations, sharing ideas and creating policies by engaging folks – and if used correctly by politicians and candidates debating those ideas and policies online. So why would you create your own hashtag, when you could go where the people who want to have those conversations already hang out? I’m not sure, unless you’re a superstar and can form a community quickly – but let’s be honest, that is usually not the case. Why do that when there’s probably one already built waiting for you. Do some research, find out where people are hanging on Twitter and join their conversation.
If you’re new on Twitter, here’s a few ways to find out: use the search in Twitter to check out opponents and what hashtags they’re using, search for a specific town or city, talk to people on your campaign who are Twitter savvy and hang out where you want to be.
If you’re a veteran and you’ve been tweeting for years you probably already know the hashtags, where people are talking – go join them, talk with them, ask them their opinions and find out what matters to them, their families and friends. You’ll be surprised the type of engagement you can have with people when you’re actually willing to put yourself out there and take the time to reply to people. Think about it this way, you wouldn’t ignore someone talking to you at an event, so why would you do it when you’re on Twitter?
So get out there and have conversations with people, it’s part of a winning strategy. But just remember next time someone on your campaign team says “hey let’s start our own hashtag”. Hashtags are already out there, people are already communicating – use them (#topoli, #misspoli, ottpoli, #niagpoli) and be creative elsewhere. There’s a tonne of room for creativity in the digital and social web – please use those creative ideas in other spaces.