As someone who is in the online advocacy space, I can tell you I (very) often hear grousing from seasoned campaigners about social media. “Not an efficient way to get your message out”, says one. “It will never replace traditional door knocking or face-to-face voter contact” says another.
My response: “Of course. Who said otherwise?”
There almost seems to be a defensive stance taken by my learned colleagues when the discussion of social media as a campaign/mobilization tool gets under way. Often – as I did last week – I find myself in an inevitable ‘either/or’ position. My friends talk of campaigns (canvassing, phone bank, ad spends) and then they turn to me and say: “No offense. I know you’re the digital guy.”
None taken. In fact, if you weren’t offering these traditional (and effective) campaign techniques, I would be smacking you over the head. But in case there is any lingering doubt, I’d like to throw some binding statements on the table for future discussions:
Social media will never replace personal voter contact.
Ever. No matter how sophisticated we get, chatting to a real live campaign volunteer or the candidate is the most effective engagement tool there is. We’re human. Humans like talking to other humans. In person. Let’s move on, shall we?
A real-life army of volunteers trumps a digital one.
Again, who’s arguing? Only the most ardent social media fanboy/hipster would disagree with such a statement. The fact of the matter is that if you are flush with volunteers who can make that personal contact (see Point #1), then you’re well ahead of the game. But….
The reality is that resources are scarce.
The army of volunteers is a rarity. More often than not, you are dealing with supporters who are already overworked and over-committed with family, charity work and other community responsibilities. The fact of the matter is that you will need to find avenues and tools for supporters to engage with the campaign – in a meaningful way – that respects their limited availability.
Social media is an excellent recruitment tool.
Rather than be viewed as a replacement for a traditional campaign (which is will never be), social media should be viewed as an excellent option to identify supporters and donors through specific issues, demographics or geographical area. Used correctly, this microtargeting can prove extremely effective at recruiting people to get more involved in the (traditional) campaign apparatus.
Broadcast advertising + earned media = message delivery
TV is still important. Offline advertising is still important. We admitted that fact a number of weeks ago. But that doesn’t mean social media isn’t more effective at targeting voters. Can it get your message out to the same sized audience at the same rate as a big ad buy? Of course not. Say it with me: who said otherwise?
As we all know, politics is the management of scarcity. So I suppose some of this “conflict” is due to the fact that those on the traditional voter contact side of things see this as a zero-sum game: the more money/effort that goes towards digital, the less there is for offline activities.
But there is such a thing as economies of scale. The more areas that are rowing in the same direction, the faster the entire boat moves.
So, to my colleagues on the traditional side of the ledger I ask: can’t we all just work together?