In 1982, birds were the only creatures that were really expected to tweet. That was the last time New Jersey Republican Jeff Bell ran a race. The concept of a tweet has changed a bit since then.
Twitter is now an essential resource: connecting politicians and campaigns of every level to their voter bases—in 140 characters or less, of course. It’s a particular challenge for candidates like Bell—candidates used to much more traditional modes of campaigning.
Sure, this year’s Senate race in New Jersey is atypical—and not all that competitive. (Analysts have the race leaning heavily in Democratic Sen. Cory Booker’s favor.) It’s hardly every day that a party dusts off a candidate with little experience running a modern campaign, and it’s rare that person ends up running against one of the country’s most social-savvy politicians. In the aftermath of his primary victory, Bell joked that he’d need to buy at least one million Twitter followers to catch up to Booker’s following.
Still, young or old, there are no shortage of examples of candidates having to close an online or social communication gap with an opposing campaign—and having to do it quickly. So what’s a candidate to do when their opponent is way out of their league?
Building an organic following on Twitter can seem like an uphill battle, especially for those candidates who face a generational gap or an opponent with a massive following. Fortunately, it’s far from a lost cause.
It doesn’t have to be a numbers game
While a candidate’s number of followers may appear to correlate with their success online, that isn’t always the case.
“I always tell my candidates that you can never compare one candidate’s following to another’s,” says social media strategist Beth Becker. “It’s not about the number; it’s about a quality and engaged following.”
Becker suggests that candidates provide a steady diet of content and engagement for their followers. When the information is interesting and relevant, a candidate’s followers are more likely to retweet it, favorite it, or engage with it. The question then becomes whether those audiences will do the same, says Becker. “If not, then the follower base is not as valuable.”
Don’t forget about other mediums
Just because a candidate starts out with no followers on Twitter doesn’t mean they are unconnected. A candidate’s email contacts and Facebook likes have the potential to be Twitter followers as well.
“Send an email to everyone on your contact list and ask them to follow you on Twitter for more campaign updates,” advises digital strategist Laura Packard. By using another social avenue to promote Twitter, a campaign can achieve a more well-rounded media presence.
Another benefit to using other platforms to promote a Twitter page is the lack of cost. Posting about a Twitter page on Facebook is not only useful, it’s free.
Twitter offers an opportunity to keep your audience continually updated on what’s happening in your campaign. Yet the details of a race should not be the only content on your Twitter feed. Tweeting about daily events allows a candidate to connect with possible voters about issues that affect them.
“Hijack the issue of the day,” suggests Aaron Windeknecht, a strategist with Campaign HQ. “Use the hashtags and mentions about that issue to gain access to your target audience and engage with them.”
But the necessity to stay current is twofold. Although a candidate’s Twitter should produce thought-provoking and informed tweets, the timing of these tweets is also paramount. If you’re new to Twitter, a good rule of thumb is to be tweeting between eight and 10 times a day.
There’s much truth to the saying “Don’t trust everything you read on the Internet.” As more and more importance is placed on online content, internet users are becoming more adept at sniffing out phoniness.
“Internet users are really savvy, and they can tell who is trying too hard,” says Windeknecht. “Although you can do things like throw money at a promoted hashtag, the truth is that you cannot force an organic following.”