Social media can be a blessing and curse. It’s a great way to reach voters but it’s equally easy to shoot yourself in the foot. In this post, we’ll cover some all-too common social media mistakes that are made by political campaigns.

Spelling Counts

Nothing can take the focus off of your message like misspellings, grammar mistakes, and improper punctuation. In days when much of the social media posting occurs from mobile devices, it’s really easy to fall victim to the dreaded autocorrect blunders or to succumb to the temptation to skip punctuation or use shortcuts. If you’re running for school board and misspelling your Facebook posts, people probably won’t trust you to oversee their children’s education.

Here are some tips for avoiding taking a credibility hit:

  • Don’t use text-speak in your social media updates, with the possible exception of Twitter. While it’s more acceptable (and often necessary due to the 140 character limit), it should still be avoided, if possible.
  • Watch out for common grammar mistakes, like conflating “your” and “you’re,” “their” and “they’re,” “its” and “it’s,” etc. For a longer list, check out 25 of the Most Common Grammatical Errors We All Need to Stop Making.
  • Be extra careful on your mobile device. It’s hard to always see the full sentence, making it easier to mix up sentences, and, of course, auto-correct is always lurking around every corner!
  • Have multiple people scanning your social media posts, looking for errors. While you can’t edit Tweets, most other social networks so provide the ability to edit after the fact. It never hurts to have an extra set of eyeballs looking out for mistakes and typos.

Faking Sincerity

Appearing insincere can take multiple forms on social media. It’s important to be cognizant of this, as people have very sensitive detectors for these sorts of things and, in many cases, will not hesitate to call you out on it.

One way to give the impression of insincerity is the overuse of social media automation tools. It’s very easy, for example, to set up accounts so that the exact same update gets shared on multiple accounts (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). This is a nice way to be efficient, but there are several drawbacks:

  • It looks lazy: If people see that your Tweets and Facebook Posts and Instagram posts are all identical, it just makes you look a little lazy.
  • It looks ugly: Twitter and Facebook and other social networks each have their own features and limitations. When you share the exact same update on every network, you are necessarily succumbing to the lowest common denominator. They’ll have the same length and not take advantage of valuable features. For example, a Facebook post can be much longer than a Tweet and you’re not able to tag people or pages. A Tweet must have the URL embedded in the update if you’re sharing a link, but Facebook doesn’t. And so on… The lesson here is to take the extra couple of second to customize your update on each social channel so that it takes full advantage of all features.
  • It is invisible: Your audience is going to be active at different times on different networks. In order to make sure that your updates are seen by as much of your audience as possible, you’re going to want to post them at the best times. If you’re blasting out the same update at the same time to all channels, that can’t happen.

There are still ways to automate your posting while mitigating the issues I’ve listed above. If you still want to enjoy the efficiencies of social media automation and keep the ability to customize the appearance and timing of your posts, check out Buffer.

Another way to look insincere is not to pay attention to your surroundings. Political candidates are especially vulnerable to this, as they can be caught in awkward positions or in a place that may somehow conflict with their messaging. Here’s just one example. George Osborne is a British MP who uses social media in an attempt to appear more like the common man. However, in this otherwise innocent-looking Tweet, it turns out that the burger he’s eating comes from a gourmet restaurant. Fair or unfair, he took a pretty good ribbing for it.

Starting a Tweet With @

This is a common mistake that people make with Twitter. It’s not the easiest platform to understand, and this is one of those nuances that the casual user won’t understand. You may know that putting an “@” in front of a Twitter handle is known as a “mention.” It’s like tagging someone on Facebook. However, when you start off a Tweet with a mention, Twitter assumes it’s a response as part of a dialogue. This means that your followers won’t see the Tweet unless they follow both you and the user you’re mentioning. If you are speaking directly to that person, then it’s fine. But frequently, these Tweets begin with a person’s Twitter handle because they’re the subject of the Tweet and not necessarily because it’s directed to them.

The common work around to avoiding this is to being your Tweet with a “.” and then the “@” and Twitter handle.

Profile Blunders

Many voters will be introduced to you for the very first time on social media. In many cases, they’ll be going to your profile as a starting point to learn more about you. Be sure you’re not making any of these basic errors:

  • Incomplete Profile: Fill everything out! If there is a description field, be sure to use it. If there’s space for your website, use it. If there’s space for any information, use it! Not only is it important to take advantage of the real estate these social networks give you, but incomplete profiles may sometimes leave the impression that you’re lazy, sloppy, or incompetent.
  • Missing Networks: All campaigns, most especially small ones, need to be extremely judicious with their resources. If you’re going to use a social network, you must commit to it. Failing to do so will leave a very poor impression. However, I strongly encourage you to at least register the same user name on every single social network possible. You don’t have to use it, but it will prevent squatters, trolls, and opponents from making mischief with them.
  • Wrong Image Sizes: Using images can be complicated. Most social networks now have both a profile picture and a banner image. These are both very different sizes and aspect ratios. It’s important to use an image with the proper aspect ratio in each circumstance. Most profile images are square, so attempting to use a logo or picture that’s very wide or very tall will not look right.

Tarnished Timelines

Self-oppo is a crucial part of every campaign. You need to scout yourself the way an opponent would and eliminating and/or mitigating all of the negativism from your timeline.

Alberta standard-bearer Ala Buzreba, 21, was criticized when tweets from her teenage years surfaced in which she had told one commenter to “go blow your brains out” and another that their “mother should have used that coat hanger”.

Twitter Chats, a.k.a. The Online “Kick Me” Sign

Don’t. Ever. Just say no to Twitter chats. You are absolutely falling for the online version of someone hanging a “Kick Me” sign on your back. It invites all of the opponents and trolls on to your timeline and hands them a golden opportunity to counter your arguments and cast you in a negative light.

If you’re not familiar with the term “Twitter chat,” they’re a public, online conversation that uses Twitter hashtags to ask questions and solicit answers. Users can search for the Twitter tag and see all of the comments from any Twitter user who wishes to jump into the conversation.

While this example is a company and not a political candidate, a recent Twitter chat hosted by women’s clothing apparel-maker Lane Bryant illustrates some of the dangers

Do Your Homework

It’s tempting to to want to be early to the party sharing news on social media. However, sometimes in our zeal to share we don’t do our homework. Be careful to fact check stories you share and be on the lookout for fake accounts.

Here’s an example of British Prime Minister David Cameron referencing a fake account:

And also be on the lookout for parody accounts. Many a politician has been caught responding to The Onion as if it were a real news outlet. Here’s one example:

john fleming resonds to the onion

Flaming Out

If you decide to engage on a social media channel, make sure you understand the time commitment and then stick to it An abandoned social media account forces people to wonder why. Did you suspend your campaign? Did your social media coordinator quit? Are you running out of money? Did you plan poorly? Whether or not they’re the case, you don’t want any of those questions even crossing a voter’s mind.

Be Sociable

The word “social” in social media is really important. Think about it for a second. It’s a term we use so frequently, it’s easy to stop thinking about the meaning of the words. The whole point is to be social and communicate with the public.

The first rule of being sociable is responsiveness. Rightly or wrongly, people expect fast responses on social media. If you’re a candidate for local office, you will likely have voters asking you questions directly on social media. Be sure to answer them all and answer them as quickly as possible.

And if you’re going to be a political candidate using social media, be prepared for negative comments. It comes with the territory. But when we say “be prepared,” we mean be prepared to respond, not to censor. It’s natural to feel like you need to keep your account positive, but if word gets around that you’re deleting negative comments, you’re going to be perceived as thin-skinned and/or a weak leader. If possible, try to assemble a rapid response team of friends, family, and volunteers to respond positively to negative comments.

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