You can learn all kinds of things about life and communication from marketing, such as how human attention works, and what it actually takes to inspire action outside the scope of somebody’s daily routine. These kind of insights have led me to the conclusion that social media is almost worthless as a communication tool, especially when it comes to politics --- and even more so in the ways that most users use it. Let me explain by way of asking a question.
What is your objective in discussing politics? I think its totally fair to say that you feel there is a huge problem in our society, and that you want to raise awareness of said problem...because that will hopefully help to solve it. But will it? Ask yourself how will it do so, especially when you’re competing against so many other ideas for the information of a target audience.
The best way to fight any info war is with a proper campaign. Every campaign needs an objective. The more specific your objective is, the better. In business, this is quite simple: you want your target customer to buy your product. To do that, you need to inform them --- they need to know that your product exists, and why they should buy it.
Basically, if you’re out there “informing” people, you’ll need an objective (unless, of course, you just want to complain about the problem, then you’re just fine without one). If you truly care about solving the problem, you can apply some tried and true marketing philosophy to strengthen your game.
First, define your objective. From there, you can work backwards to establish smaller steps along the way that move your target audience towards your objective. At Inquisitek, we use a funnel to help local businesses visualize their marketing:
You can see that the overall objective is broken down into other goals. To get a sale, you have to get your leads to the Point-Of-Sale where you can actually collect a payment, such as your office/retail space, the phone, or your website. To go there, the customer will need more info, which you provide in stages. Each bit of info helps the customer to feel comfortable in taking the next step, which moves them along down the funnel.
Marketing is just another information campaign. The only difference between your political goals and marketing is that you’re trying to sell an idea rather than a physical product or service. Either way, there’s a specific action you want them to take...right? In marketing, this is what’s known as the call-to-action.
Let’s use mainstream politics as an example. Perhaps your solution to a perceived problem is to get a certain candidate elected. What will that take? We’ve seen that elections are typically won by only a few percentage points, at most. So it’s a safe bet that elections are won on 1) voter turnout, and 2)swaying moderates.
There’s no sense in working on people who are already committed to voting for a certain candidate. Your solution, then, is to get the aforementioned two groups to vote.
Every marketing medium has its own limitations
Of course, Facebook blurbs alone will not get the job done. Let’s be realistic. People who normally can’t be bothered to vote will need more info than one user can provide in that forum. So maybe you link them to some quality info, like a good book or documentary. Maybe you invite them to debate the subject, or to have a conversation about it over the phone. This is what we marketers call your call-to-action. Having a call-to-action attached to every piece of info you share is what will actually change things.
Without this, you’re literally just complaining about the problem. Do you want to be the person who finally convinces somebody there is a problem, and then gets asked “so what should we do about it” and has nothing to offer? You need to baby step your target(s) down the funnel to the ballot box. For your purposes, the funnel might look like this:
So the first recommendation is to have a defined objective, and break it down into smaller goals. You can see in the illustration that I don’t really view social media as anything other than a lead-in to a real conversation. I see it as a marketing tool --- a way to capture a user’s interest and invite them to something more.
This is powerful because once they take voluntary action, they become more receptive. If you post an essay on their feed, they’ll just TLDR. If they take it upon themselves to respond to something you’ve posted, however, by voluntarily navigating to a nice article, they’ll be more invested.
Social media is largely ineffective as anything more than a way to bring people into your funnel. It simply isn’t powerful enough to change drastically somebody’s mind or behavior. Consider these points:
1. Communication experts say that over 50% of communication is non-verbal, and a significant chunk of the verbal stuff is in things like tonality and inflection that are lost in online communication
2. People’s attention spans are much shorter on social media than in person
3. People get on social media for a hit of dopamine, not because they’re there to solve problems
4. Those who disagree can easily just acquiesce to their confirmation bias and scroll past your content
5. Social media is extremely competitive when it comes to capturing users attention If you think you’re creating real change on Facebook, think again. The fact it, it’s really not a great way to communicate. Its a moderately useful way to bring people into your sphere of communication, but the rubber doesn’t really meet the road until you get them to communicate with you in another forum
Are you focused on what you wish you could accomplish, or what’s realistic?
Seriously. To use another marketing analogy, please consider Return-on-Investment for your efforts. In marketing, you need to use cost-effective strategies. You’re running a business, and you need strategies that will bring in more money than they cost. In political discourse, you have similar constraints. The only difference is that the resource in question, here, is time. You only have so much of it.
Well, perfect, you say. That’s why social media is great. In one post, I can reach 4.5K people. Let me defer you to the list above. Are 4.5K actually seeing it? Are they reading it? Is it even showing up in their feed? How many other users do they follow? The logistical magic of social media is that you can make contact with many people in a very short amount of time. And this is good, as long as that time is well spent. My assessment is that a good investment of your time is to use social media as part of your funnel, not the Point-of-Sale.
And on that note, my final piece of marketing wisdom is to talk to what we call qualified leads. Do you understand your audience? Do your understand your market? Basically, its cheaper (or less time consuming) to spend time and/or money to find people who are already receptive, than to try and persuade people who are not. That means that your heated debates with extremists on the opposite end of the spectrum have a cost you can’t really afford. The real cost, here, is that you’re missing the opportunity to convert potentially dozens of more qualified leads.
Again, this is all matters only if you truly want to fix the social problems you complain about. Without an objective, you’re just complaining. And once you have an objective, some uncomfortable truths become painfully clear. As much as we want to believe that we can save the world in our socks ---wouldn’t that be convenient and modern and wonderful --- we can’t.
There is, arguably, a small role that social media can play in today’s society, although I flat out disagree with those who say social media is essential. If you’re going to use it to discuss politics, I suggest using it very intentionally.
That means have an objective. That means that your info has a call-to-action attached to it. That means you invest your time and energy into those who are likely to respond to your call-to-action. Finally, it means you use more than just social media. It means you realize that social media isn’t the end-all, be-all that we wish it was. By itself, it doesn’t convert people into believers.
That’s not what Facebook is for. That’s not what it does. What it’s for is getting users addicted, controlling the public image of certain things that are favorable to Facebook, and making Facebook more billions to add to their immodest pile.
Productive discourse, meanwhile, doesn’t happen in the virtual world. It requires time, and effort, and social risk. It requires you to go out. You can’t save the Republic without putting your shoes on, as nice as that would be.
I encourage social media users to be honest about what it is, exactly, that that they like about their favorite platforms. One way too start that sort of self-analysis is to just assume that you’re not honest. The reason you should make this assumption is because you’re probably not, and the story you’re telling yourself to justify you’re insistence that you are actually are straight up with yourself is just that: a story.
Facebook is (successfully) designed to be addictive. Have you ever asked noticed how getting on social media makes you feel? Just assess your own habits and beliefs surrounding your relationship to it, and you’ll probably start to see symptoms and language that look eerily similar to those of any substance addict: Wasting time. Using it to distract yourself from mounting problems. Spending more time on it than you think you are (go on, check you app usage). Frankly, even the tired old “it’s essential, because that’s where so many people get their info from” reeks of addict-talk. It’s just not true.
Personally, I don’t use it at all, for several reasons. I’ve found it hard to set boundaries when using it. I waste time and distract myself from the real world. And as somebody who advocates free speech, to me it is entirely counterproductive and hypocritical to use it all. I have friends who say they feel the same as me about free speech, but use Facebook. By doing so, aren’t you financing a mega-wealthy company with a clear vendetta against free speech? Do you actually think your impact as a user is more than a drop in that ocean?
Then there’s the privacy concerns. The slow but steady decay of privacy is killing free speech and diversity of thought and Facebook is one of the big perpetrators. How can inviting Facebook and the rest into our private lives be worth the cost? I’d make the argument that there’s no return at all. But if I can’t convince you to quit it altogether, at least apply some marketing wisdom to your endeavors.