Social media will not win your election

Go try to figure out what your local political party is doing online.

Odds are, if you can find anything, it’ll be a Facebook page whose last update, IN ALL CAPS, was in May 2013. Want to learn what’s going on in your county? Good luck.

We’ve looked across the country, and your county’s nonexistent web-presence is the norm: A few years ago someone hopped on the social media train, realized how tough it was to maintain, and hopped off. The same is true for a digital graveyard’s worth of former local candidates.

But wasn’t social media the wave of the future? Wasn’t this supposed to be the Social Media Election?

That may be true at the national level, where candidates have dedicated social media staff and user analytics, but locally it just isn’t there.

Here are three good reasons you should put your digital organizing energy somewhere besides your Facebook fan page:

1) Social media is brief, oversimplified, and terrible at setting priorities.

Last week, Della Rucker of the Wise Economy Workshop wrote a fantastic piece on social media and public engagement. The bottom line: Facebook posts and tweets evaporate almost immediately.

Character limits and attention spans prevent audiences from engaging on a topic in a nuanced way, and the chronological order of updates makes your latest post, not your top priority, the star of your campaign.

Social media is great for organizing people and spreading information about topics people already know or care about.

But the first job of most local campaigns is to introduce the candidate and the stakes, and Facebook and Twitter are terrible at that.

2) Eighty-three percent of political conversations still happen face to face.

People may get their breaking news from Twitter, but the vast majority of political conversations — the ones where friends and colleagues work out the issues together — still happen in person. This is doubly true at the local level, which news outlets and social media audiences often overlook.

What local voters lack isn’t a place to have a political conversation, but the easily accessible information they need to make it worthwhile.

3) You can’t fundraise on Facebook.

For every crowdfunding story that goes viral are a thousand causes and campaigns that dry up because supporters don’t know how to get involved. With online fundraising now so easy, simple, and secure, getting donations should be easier than ever before — but a digital presence that begins and ends on Facebook shuts that possibility down completely.

Facebook has no interest in letting people fundraise through its site, and standalone donation-processors separate the action of donating from the reasons people are doing it.

Only a website provides both context and the ability for users to act.

The moral of the story isn’t that local candidates and organizations should dismiss the power of digital campaigns. Quite the opposite — it’s recognizing that a digital presence is something besides a lonely Facebook page.

More than anything, a local candidate needs a central hub for their ideas, one that lets them state their message and clearly set their priorities. Then they need to take their message to the street. Because when the idea is good, people will tweet about it.

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