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Earned media — it’s easy if your name is Donald Trump or you are a sitting governor looking for re-election. But what if you’re an underdog congressional candidate looking to take on a sitting, but vulnerable, incumbent?
While earned media is not going to be easy for you to obtain, you now have media tools at your disposal to talk to the voter directly. One of the most powerful ones is the social photo platform Instagram. Instagram, along with Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat are changing the way that politicians interact with existing supporters and those in their district.
Instagram allows you to give an account of the your day that the local media can’t cover. While Instagram may not have the same attention grab as Snapchat, it does exceed the engagement that you can garner on Twitter. But Instagram should also be used differently than both of those platforms.
On Instagram, most of your followers are going to be supporters or people open to supporting you. While Snapchat tends to have a higher curiosity factor, Instagram tends to be geared more towards those already on your team. One mistake to avoid is taking an image on Instagram and using the same image on Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook. The platforms are different, and if you are doing the same thing on all the platforms, people will start to tune you out. Remember that your demographic for Instagram is going to be slightly different, slightly older than your Snapchat user, yet younger than your typical Facebook follower.
We all know the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. This is so true. We can see the analytics when we post to Twitter and use an image as opposed to just text.
With social media, especially Instagram, it’s all about the optics. Instagram and other photo sharing platforms give your followers 24/7 access to what is happening with your campaign. This access gives voters more of a chance to get to know you in the way you want to portray yourself. And it allows the candidate not to rely on traditional media to deliver the message you want when you want it. This access also gives voters a chance to engage directly with the campaign on their time. And what campaign is not looking for more engagement from voters who are seeking out engagement?
Tips to Maximize your Instagram Experience:
Follow people. Remember, it is “social” media. Sure, it may be hard for a presidential campaign with over a million followers to follow and engage a wide audience. Most of us are not involved in the day-to-day of a national campaign. But for a smaller race, follow people, engage on their photos, and tag them in pictures.
Every press release should be a photo or video. Every time you issue a press release, you hope the media will pick it up and run with it. The truth is, that is not going to happen very often. So why not include a picture or a video to send that message directly to your supporters and those interested in your campaign? If you issue a statement on a local zoning issue, take a picture with someone whom it affects and tell their story. If you get an endorsement from a state VFW leader, shoot a ten-second video of him endorsing you.
Post short campaign videos and advertisements. Donald Trump’s campaign is great at this. Trump recently released a 15-second video on Instagram about “our toughest opponents,” which ended with Hillary doing her now-famous bark. It was hilarious, effective, and didn’t require a big budget to produce video. Instagram is great for showing who you are, but when it comes time to compare and contrast, you can do a quick, amusing video and have an avenue to get it out. Encourage your supporters to share your videos and they can spread quickly.
Pick a filter and stick with it. There’s no problem with you using Instagram filters; that’s part of what makes Instagram fun. But if you use filters, pick just one to maintain a uniform look.
Post photos of the candidate on the road and in local establishments. Candidates spend a lot of time on the road. Snapchat is a great way to tell the behind-the-scenes story, but don’t forget to use Instagram to highlight the candidate in the district. When you head to that local coffee shop, take a picture, tag the establishment (since they probably have an account too), and tag others you meet there. When you tag someone, you should follow them. They will often follow you back, and that gives you more opportunities to connect with them later.
Don’t forget to show people who you are when you are not “on the job.” Often candidates don’t want to “use” their family, but this isn’t a matter of using anyone. It is giving people a sense of who you are as a person. The more you can show who you are, the better chance voters have to connect with you on a personal level.
Instagram should be a mix of video and pictures. When someone looks at your account, they should not see all videos or all photos. And they are much more likely to look at your past photos on Instagram than they are to look at your Twitter history.
Master hashtags in Instagram. Instagram, more than almost any other platform, can take advantage of hashtags. I will often check out #ChandlerAZ or another local hashtag to see what’s going on in my community. If you go to an event or a local high school game, find out what hashtag they’re using for it. It will help you connect with a lot more people.
Not every photo needs to include the candidate. I would advise that at least one-third to one-half of all the photos should have the candidate, but the rest should be about the people of the campaign or district. You want to promote others as much as you promote yourself.
Make sure your bio is not boring and just text. Be fun, make the bio visual, and mention who runs the account (e.g., this account is run by the candidate or the staff). One underutilized section of the bio is the link to a website. Instead of simply listing the campaign website, change it frequently to reflect what message the campaign is promoting right now. And finally, use a hashtag. Maybe something like #AskJon or #JonForAZ. Here are a couple of well-done bios.
Don’t forget Instagram advertisements. Right now, for example, you can target all females inside a zip code and have a relatively targeted list. Remember, the average user spends almost a 30 minutes a day scrolling through photos on Instagram. Use it. Facebook owns Instagram, and they know how to target their users for ads. The key to an Instagram ad is to make it look authentic. Make it look like a photo you would expect to see on Instagram.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below and let me know what you think about Instagram for a campaign.