As the Director of Social Media, my job was to translate our campaign’s slogan “working for you” into a social media strategy. This campaign for the student government executive got incredibly competitive, and while we also had a twitter account (we live tweeted debates), the main frontier was a race for Facebook likes.
It came down to a two week campaign period—taken very seriously at Georgetown—and had a campaign staff that was organized in a parallel structure to a “real” political campaign because most students have actually worked on campaigns before. For example, our Director of Outreach is a paid outreach employee on campaigns at the national and state level when he’s not cramming for midterms and our Communications Director was sending press clippings every day.
With a budget of $300 for the whole campaign (first because we’re college students, and second, because we had to report everything), our best strategy to increase our status in people’s news feeds was to like and share everything possible and encourage our friends to do the same.
I learned some invaluable and sometimes disappointing lessons about social media in the political and university sphere: first, the students don’t care about the platform, if you’re perceived as annoying the campaign is over. Second, shareable, image-based content is king.
For the average student, the only apparent connection to student government was the annoying email spam in school inboxes, so the only viable link to use in this case was humor. This came most into play with our videos, of which the funnier did better.
Shareable Content is King
Other than the videos, the best way for us to get our name into people’s minds before Election Day was shareable content. There were a few things we did in this area that made a huge difference. Picture posts did significantly better than text or links, and among those, pictures taken ourselves, especially with text overlaid were shared like wildfire.
First, we did something that every campaign did, but is important to mention. We had profile pictures and cover photos on our page which all of our supporters took on as their own for the two-week period. Since we don’t really have a polling method, we and other campaigns used the number of profile-picture changes to indicate how well our outreach was working among the student body. We also made different versions of the profile picture, adapted to special interests students have on campus corresponding to our platform.
The second thing we did was laminate a sign that said “working for _____” and had students fill in the blank with changes they wanted to see on campus. This was successful for a few reasons. First, people saw their friends and liked our page, second, people tagged in the photos felt both personally associated with our campaign and shared the photo with all of their friends. This feature set us apart from other campaigns and added a really personal touch to our page.
A third strategy that worked was to interact with other interests in the school. If the basketball team had a big game that night, the hockey club team had just won nationals, or a theater group was putting on a big performance, we were sure to add a picture, comment on what a good job they were doing, and link those groups’ Facebook pages in the process. People appreciated that we weren't just harping on our policy points all the time and that we were actually concerned with campus groups as a part of our campaign message.
Unfortunately, the goal of the campaign could not have been and was not about informing people, it was all about name recognition. We read hundreds of pages a day for school, and we go to Facebook to stop reading. Even though we had a really-well developed platform formed by campus experts in different areas, most student didn't care much. They didn't respond to policy posts, the only text-based posts the student body received well were heartfelt notes from candidates with signatures. They worked because they revealed the human side of our candidates, and in my opinion, showed that they were really good guys.
Reach and Results
We had a successful social media side of the campaign. As far as reach goes, our Facebook page had 419 likes and our Twitter had 55 followers, both of which were on par with or higher than those of our competitors. Most Facebook posts saw a reach of around 750 people, and the image-based posts, which were shared much more, saw a reach of about 1,100-1,300. The post with a video of supporters and the issues Ben and Sam wanted to fix had a reach of over 5,000.
In the end, we didn't win the election, but I made fifty friends in two weeks, slept less than I ever have, learned so much, and can’t wait to do it again next year.