But for most of us, we log-on to social media to connect with our friends and family, to see what’s happening in the world and to share our opinions. We aren’t trying to build massive audiences—we just want to learn, to socialize and to share our opinions on the story of the day.
And so often today, that story is about politics.
We live in a social media age: never before have American politics moved so fast or felt so destructive. It feels like we are in an endless state of breaking news; CNN’s chyron writers can hardly keep up with the stories as they come rolling in.
So let’s say you want to go online and get involved in the conversation, but you aren’t sure where to start. Then these ten tips might be for you. This list could apply to professional politicos and full-time activists, but I didn’t write it for them. Rather it’s intended for people with jobs, families, social lives and a million other things going on, but who still have a passion to change their community, if not the world.
Tip 1 — If it didn’t happen on social media, it didn’t happen.
This is the first rule of any campaign I’ve ever worked on, and it needn't be limited to traditional political campaigns. If you go to an event, no matter how well attended, consider all of those who didn’t attend. Some didn’t know about it, some couldn’t get off work, some live in other places. Talking about the events and meetings you attend both bring in new audiences in real time, and give more people a reason to attend such events in the future.
Share your story via the social media platforms of your choice throughout the event. Quote speakers, share videos of exciting moments, talk about why you are there, what you are learning and how great a time you are having.
Or else, it never really happened 😉
Tip 2 — Your story is your best asset
All the facts and statistics in the world can’t compete with a personal story from someone in your community. Hearing that 23 million people will lose healthcare is powerful; hearing that YOU or YOUR BROTHER won’t be able to keep their healthcare, far more so.
Your story doesn’t have to be tragic to be powerful. What got you active in the movement? Why do you care? What are the moments that shaped you? They are all part of your story.
You don’t have to reveal your deepest, darkest secrets to put a personal spin on the story of the day.
Tip 3 — Online organizing starts offline
You will not sign up for a Twitter account today, and amass 100k followers over the next few weeks (if you do, contact me and let’s tell that story!). But connect with the people you already know in real life and let them know how to find you online. This can be at events and meetings, in your email signature, within Facebook Groups in which you are active, etc.
The people who already know (and love) you will be much more receptive to your message than a group of strangers. And if your goal is to make a difference, it helps to have a receptive audience.
Tip 4 — Support each other
If you see someone getting attacked for speaking out, it’s okay to step up for them, just like you would in real life.
If you aren’t comfortable getting involved publicly in an online debate (some can’t because of their jobs, others just aren’t comfortable with it), consider dropping a private note to the person under siege. Let them know you appreciate that they are fighting the good fight.
If we cede the conversation to the bullies, we lose. We can’t all be outspoken activists, but we must support each other so that those who are in a position to engage won’t get shut down and pushed out of the conversation altogether.
Tip 5 — Use Twitter lists as a listening tool
I know a lot of people who don’t like Twitter because they find it too confusing. And I get that. At first glance, Twitter is chaos. But Twitter lists help bring order to the chaos.
Utilizing them is free and easy, and you don’t even have to build your own — you can subscribe to someone else’s.
Lists can be public or private:
- A public list can be followed by anyone, and whenever you add someone to it, they get a notification. If your list is called “people I admire,” or “progressive leaders,” that’s a good thing! If it’s called “people I loathe,” maybe not so much.
- A private list can be seen only by you. No one else can subscribe, and no one will get a notification when you add them.
Build lists of journalists, people who inspire you, friends, colleagues, etc.. And then get a free account with HootSuite or Tweetdeck and easily monitor them, on a timeframe that works for you.
Lists only show content shared by those in your list. So if it’s a list of journalists, whenever you login, you can see all of their tweets in a manageable stream, and nothing else. Literally: order out of the chaos.
This will help you stay informed and connected to many different groups of people in a way that won’t feel overwhelming.
Tip 6 — The Power of Facebook Events
Activists are, first and foremost, organizers. Sometimes, their goal is to use the internet as a tool to bring people together in real life. If that’s your goal, optimize your efforts.
Facebook events are extremely powerful, but ONLY if used correctly. Don’t build a Facebook Event two days before an event. At that point, you have missed your window. If you can’t build it at least 4-6 weeks prior, you are not really taking advantage of this awesome tool. (Bear in mind, this is NOT applicable for birthday parties, community concerts, etc., where you can pretty much do whatever you want. This is for public events that you want to promote to a public audience.)
Once your Event is built, invite people you think will want to attend and share it with your networks. Post about it on your wall, email it to your friends, tell people about it in real life and let them know they should join.
Once you have a group of people who have said they are “interested” or “going” to your event, now it’s time to engage them.
Every time you post an update in the event, everyone “interested” or “going” will get a notification. So it’s important not to annoy them (they can remove themselves from the event outright or simply from receiving notifications). My recommendation: post about once a week until the final two weeks prior to the actual event. Then ramp up as you get closer. But just about EVERY notification should not solicit, but rather excite.
This elected official will be at the event — EXCITING
Did you mark your calendars yet for the big day? — solicitation
We’re going to have cake from this awesome local bakery — EXCITING
Tip 7 — The Power of Facebook Groups
Facebook sees Groups as a big part of their future and is investing heavily in them. Take advantage of this powerful online tool.
Find groups of likeminded people and join them (you can explore Facebook’s countless Groups at Facebook.com/Groups). If you can’t find a group of like-minded people, start your own!
The biggest strength of a Facebook Group is the same as the biggest strength of a Facebook Event: the notification!
Every time someone in the Group posts, members get a notification.
It’s a far better tool for talking to like-minded people than posting to your timeline and hoping it will get seen by the right people.
Groups can be public, closed or private:
- Public Groups still requires that users join, but anyone can see the content that has been shared within
- Closed Groups require access to join and to see what has been posted—but anyone can search and find the Group on Facebook
- Secret Groups are completely shielded from public view—non-members can’t even see that they exist
Tip 8 — The Power of Facebook live
When it comes to Facebook reach and engagement, text is good. Pictures are better. Video is better still. And Facebook Live trumps them all.
When you use Facebook Live, whatever your phone’s camera (or now your webcam!) is seeing is broadcasted over your timeline in real time. It’s a great way to share your events with a larger audience, to tell your story, to excite people about your events (you can go Live directly into a Facebook Event or Group) and so much more! If you haven’t tried it yet, you should. It’s a fun tool and will all but guarantee increased reach and engagement over your current content.
Tip 9 — Know your tools
If you are going to be spending time online, don’t spend that time spinning your gears. You need to understand the platforms you are using to ensure you are getting the most out of them.
Knowing your tools includes important things like how to tag people on different platforms, how to schedule content, why people put a period (.) before a tag (@) on Twitter, as well as understanding the free analytics tools you have access to and so much more.
Follow me on Twitter and/or Facebook for lots of awesome tips. Read through my blog for plenty of helpful explainers. Book one of my social media training classes for you and/or your cohort. Or simply head to Google whenever you are confused and read a blog post or watch a video explaining how or why something works. If you are asking the question, someone has probably answered it online. So stop spinning your wheels and start reading/watching/digging in.
Tip 10 — Engage, educate, inspire
- Engage -- Don’t go on social media to talk at people. Don’t even go there to talk to people. Go there to talk with people.
Ask people in your community how they feel about issues that are important to you. And then listen to their answers. Have conversations with people with whom you agree AND with whom you disagree.
There's an important rule in online culture: Don't feed the trolls. But not everyone with whom you disagree is a troll. It's important to distinguish between those who act like jerks just for the sake of it, and those with whom you disagree, but are genuine in their beliefs and their convictions.
- Educate — You don’t need to be a college professor to have something worth sharing. Use your personal experiences to help paint a fuller picture of a story everyone is discussing.
If you read an article online and you think it’s interesting, your community will probably be interested as well. Share it. (But don’t JUST share it — tell us why you are sharing it. Are you happy about it or frustrated? If you don’t want to write something out, you can choose a pull quote and copy and paste it into the text. Find a way to give your community the context they need to know why you are sharing whatever it is that you are sharing.)
- Inspire — Show people that there’s a better way. Engage people you don’t agree with, without calling them a jerk (even if they are being one). Stand up for what you believe in, but be articulate and clear about why. Always be respectful, honest and aware.
There are so many good people online, but sometimes the trolls and the bots are louder and more persistent. It’s our responsibility to come together and ensure that we don’t cede these valuable online spaces to the worst amongst us. Social media can be an amazing tool or a toxic wasteland. Let’s ensure the good are heard, engaged with and supported, and let’s not waste our time fighting with those who want nothing more than to draw blood. They aren’t worth the effort.
You can make a difference in your community by setting an example, by educating your networks and by digging in rather than checking out.
The internet isn’t the solution for all of life’s problems. But it is a great tool for organizing, learning and connecting. Know your tools, build your community, share your story online and work towards creating the world you know is possible.
These are my ten tips. But this list is far from exhaustive. What would you add?