Primary elections are only about a month away, and that means it’s high time for everyone to start figuring out who they’re going to vote for. Candidates are taking advantage of all the traditional methods of getting their names out there—you can’t drive more than ten feet without seeing a “vote for me!” sign staked into the ground—but other methods of campaigning have been misused or ignored altogether. When it comes to social media campaigning, Georgia’s politicians simply aren’t as advanced as they are with yard signs and robocalls.
When it comes to social media, Georgia politicians aren’t quite caught up with the times. Even the ones that have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts often don’t utilize them properly. When it comes right down to it, though, social media isn’t that different from any other form of campaigning candidates are already doing. All it takes to start cleaning up a politician’s social media campaign is to think about what they’re already doing in their offline campaign and simply apply that to Twitter and Facebook.
People who talk about social media like to bring up branding and brand identity a lot, giving a lot of complicated explanations for what that is and how to make it work for you, but the basic idea is pretty simple. Your brand is what you want people to think about when they think of you—for politicians, it’s their message, political associations, values, etc. It’s how you “package” yourself. Candidates are already doing this, with the help of campaign consultants, every time they make a commercial, talk to a voter, or decide how to frame their answer to a reporter’s question.
When it comes to social media, though, it’s as if all those guidelines on how to set up an identity as a candidate suddenly fly out the window. Letting alone the actual content of websites and Facebook pages, candidates often have trouble just establishing the basics themselves. Looking at just the candidates for the Georgia House and Senate, there are numerous candidates who have no Facebook page whatsoever or whose website directs visitors to their personal Facebook profile—which is of course locked behind privacy filters. Others lack consistency in how they brand themselves between their websites, Facebook pages, and other campaign tools, using nicknames in one spot and full legal names in others.
All of this adds up to not only lost votes for the politicians but confusion for voters who just want to learn more about the candidate (or, after election season is over, their elected officials). When a politician goes by three different names and uses three different pictures on three different websites, it’s hard to know if you’ve actually got the same person. Understandably, years and districts change (as do offices) so it may seem like something like “JohnDoe4GA” isn’t going to be specific enough or stand out. That’s when it’s time to get creative.
One example of this is a candidate for state house, Jennifer Hulsey, whose website URL is HulseyInTheHouse.com. While this unfortunately isn’t maintained entirely consistently across social media networks, it’s a url/username that would work from year to year, election to election (and even in between elections if she were to be elected). It’s something that’s flexible, helps establish her brand identity, and helps distinguish her from the other candidates.
Putting it another way, the usernames and URLs for politician’s social media accounts don’t need to be bland, formulaic “First Name/Last Name for /State /Office/Year” fill-in-the-blank affairs. They should be memorable and even fun—something that might make a voter want to cast their ballot for that politician even if they don’t know anything but the URL and their name. They should be something that makes it easy for voters to find and connect with that specific candidate. While a lot of traditional campaigning may be simply about getting your name out there, social media campaigning is more about making connections and engaging in conversations. Creating a consistent, memorable username/URL is just the first step there—it doesn’t matter if someone’s posting the greatest material online if no one can find it and interact with it, after all.