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The Election and the Pitfalls of Social Advocacy

[Photo credit: Jon Passantino on Twitter]

We’re halfway through debate season. Which means your stream has blown up – twice – with opinions, reactions, diatribes, arguments, analysis and photoshopped memes in the making.

Social response so far is staggering. Consider:

  • 59,873 check-ins on Get Glue for the two debates. (They’re no Game of Thrones premiere, but still…)
  • Some 10.3 million tweets during the first presidential debate. (Source: MediaBistro.) There were 500,000 tweets about Vice President Biden’s laughter ALONE last night. (Source: Signal at Yahoo!)
  • “Malarky” is a sponsored hashtag. (Source: Mashable.) If only “swell” could make this kind of linguistic come back.

What’s interesting is the other side of the coin: the posts from people who are using the election to curate their social circle. I’ve personally seen it happen, even if those doing the unfriending aren’t public about it.

Is there such a thing as too much advocacy? It’s not a question often asked when developing brand campaigns. (And I’m hard pressed to think of a single brand effort that has generated this kind of sustained volume.)

But still. Here are five lessons from election season.

1)   Make advocacy meaningful. Publishing service sign-ups as a way to build word-of-mouth is one thing. But a constant stream of “I just did this thanks to xx!” will annoy eventually. (Anecdotally, people typically seem more annoyed by the person than the service. But why annoy by association?)

2)   Be ok with haters. If you stand for something that strikes a chord, congratulations. But not everyone will be struck the same way. Be comfortable with supporters coming to your defense. Inject when factual errors or misperception have to be addressed. Do it in real time. But let your detractor finish speaking first.

3)   Don’t give haters inadvertent ammunition. Two words: Big Bird. Whether you agree with Mitt Romney’s budget proposal or not, you can agree that picking a beloved childhood and cultural icon as an example of his fiscal approach gave people an easy way to tar and feather him.

4)   Don’t over-jump on a competitor’s misstep. When Jon Stewart tells you that the Big Bird spot your campaign is airing is going to far, you’ve overreached. Focus on your brand strengths, not inflating your competitor’s “mistakes.”

5)   Watch your tone. Make eye contact with your followers and fans. Don’t laugh at them. You may be a great brand, but if people perceive you treat others with disrespect, they’ll pounce to talk more about your attitude than your actions.