There’s no question that citizens in democratic countries around the globe have brought national politics to social media in recent years in order to connect with their political leaders and raise their voices in political debates. What remains undefined, however, is the “how-to” for politicians to satisfactorily connect with citizens desiring online and personal interaction with their elected officials.
We see this here in the U.S., where citizens have increasingly taken to Facebook and Twitter to express their opinion on a presidential candidate, debate a policy issue such as Obamacare with friends and strangers alike, and—with less of a response rate—engage with a politician in matters of policy issues and current events. Citizens have designated the online sphere as an alternative, supplementary platform for public engagement, yet politicians have been slow to react, particularly because of their uncertainty over best practices for connecting with their constituents within non-face-to-face environments; ultimately, some argue that the lagging pace at which politicians adopt social media and other online platforms of engagement could be to their detriment.
A recent opinion article in the EUobserver highlights this gloomy trend of elected officials within the European Union not meeting citizen demand for online interaction. Elizabeth Linder, Facebook’s Politics & Government Specialist for the Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) region, sees this as a problem in need of attention: “There is a need,” she argues, “to bridge the gap between citizens actively seeking to connect to politicians online, and politicians who do not yet fully understand how to connect and interact with these voices.” Of course, this isn’t just a problem across the Atlantic; our own U.S. infrastructure is in need of bridge-repair to better connect citizens and elected leaders online.
The first step to bridging this gap, as suggested by Linder’s article, is for politicians to be aware of the best practices for interacting with their electorate online. Where she draws this information from and how it’s classified as “best practices” is not indicated, but nonetheless, the advice is worthwhile for any public leader planning how to join the online congregation and connect with citizen voices.
1. Start early. The key to building trust quickly is to establish an online presence early.
2. Tailor your content to your own style. Having a social media campaign that reflects your personality helps you establish more authentic, human connections with your constituents.
3. Brush up on your page insight. Be aware of who is most engaged with your page content, at what time of day, what is popular on your page, etc. Understanding these factors can help improve your online delivery.
4. Be useful. ASK people what they’re interested in and what kind of information they would like to receive.
5. Encourage people to be content creators. When people assist in creating content on your page, your story and political message is revealed organically. Ask for questions and respond; generate hashtags; encourage people to share their relevant stories and post pictures.
Linder admits this approach is by no means comprehensive. Any strategy that pursues authenticity and builds trust through engagement and interaction will be successful. It’s also important to understand that success in these terms is most effectively qualified not by the number of “likes” or the number of “followers” a page might produce, but by the quality of engagement and the interaction inspired. At any rate, establishing an online presence is integral for a healthy public life; while it might not be synonymous to meeting in the town square or at a rally in order to connect with citizens, it is an equally important space—made so by citizens and one that admits to their desire for deeper and more diverse forms of political engagement.
What do you think of Linder’s best practice steps? What additional steps would you suggest? Share in the comments section below or on our Facebook and Twitter pages.