15/06/2016 5:54 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:53 PM AEST

U.S. Pollies Are The Post-er Children For How To Tweet A Campaign

It's most likely our leaders are afraid of a mis-step, and that's certainly a risk. Social media accounts give election candidates unparalleled visibility. And that isn't always a good thing.


Social media is playing a key role in the US elections. Among certain audiences, it's far and away the most influential medium.

For example, it's estimated that 76 percent of US millennials use Snapchat regularly, while only 17 percent of those watching TV news are under 30.

Mindy Finn, a Republican digital strategist who worked for the George W. Bush and Mitt Romney campaigns, says: "Today, we are living in an era in which the majority of voters are turning to social media, especially Facebook, for political information."

American politicians have taken note in a big way. Hillary Clinton launched her bid for the presidency first via a Snapchat story. She and Bernie Sanders have both live-streamed rallies via Periscope. And Donald Trump has virtually dictated the entire news agenda from his Twitter account.

The dollars are heading in the same direction. Political ad-spend is shifting online so rapidly in the US, for 2016 it's predicted to top US$1 billion. Most of which is going to Facebook and Google.

And yet in Australia, we're far behind.

The last Federal election did see the parties take their first tentative steps into social media.

Labor's social media agency, The Royals, came up with a pretty successful viral ad attacking the Coalition's plans for the NBN, in which door-to-door salesmen spruiked the fictitious "Abbott's Internet" to people around the world, who laughed at the idea of signing up to such slow speeds.

But this time around, both major parties' activity is -- so far -- notable only for its timidity.

And that's not what has driven success in the US. By all the metrics -- whether that be views, shares, or mainstream media coverage -- it's the audacity of Donald Trump's tweets and the bold creativity of the Bernie Sanders campaign (speaking to social media users in the native language of social media) which have cut through.

It's most likely our leaders are afraid of a mis-step, and that's certainly a risk. Social media accounts give election candidates unparalleled visibility. And that isn't always a good thing. In the recent Canadian election which brought Justin Trudeau into power, a candidate for the Conservative Party was forced out of the race after a series of YouTube videos surfaced in which he posed as a mentally disabled man in one and pretended to have an orgasm in another.

That's what not to do.

In terms of what they ought to do, here are five tips that our pollies could import from their Americans counterparts:

1. Take control of the message

When you build up a strong following on social and use it to speak to your constituency, you're no longer beholden to the news media to determine when you speak, what you talk about, or how it will be delivered. Donald Trump has 9 million Twitter followers; he doesn't need the endorsement of Fox News. But Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten are still relying on the likes of Fairfax and the ABC to be their mouthpiece.

2. Be Snappy

Once upon a time, politicians tried to distil their entire campaign platform down to a short, memorable slogan. Usually they failed. But today, even the three to eight words of the traditional campaign slogan feel like a luxury. The new currency is the hashtag, which -- of necessity -- consists of only a few words. Bernie Sanders' #FeelTheBern has been the most successful hashtag of the US primaries, in some weeks being tweeted up to 75,000 times daily. #TurnbullTime anybody?

2. Be Agile

Hillary Clinton's campaign is reportedly spending US$1 million to find social media users who post unflattering messages about her and instantly rebut them with positive messages. The agility lesson has been well-learned since the Romney campaign of 2012, which famously required 22 people to approve each tweet before it could be sent from @MittRomney. In 2016, Donald Trump's ability to shoot before aiming has gone gangbusters for him. Over here, Malcolm Turnbull uploads shots of himself taking public transport, and making stage-managed factory visits. Bill Shorten has fewer than 150,000 followers, and his feed is professional, but predictable. The lesson from Donald Trump: throw some red meat in there.

3. Use Influencers

Barack Obama's appearance on Zach Galafianakis' web series 'Between Two Ferns' showed his keen awareness of the power of influencers. Before that, Sarah Silverman starred in the famous 'Great Schlep' YouTube video which pushed for Jewish voters to back Obama. But this election has been more marked by negative celebrity endorsements, with musicians queuing up to 'ban' Donald Trump from using their music at his rallies. Hillary Clinton's selfie with Katy Perry (668,000 likes) is the high point so far. But with new research from Twitter and analytics firm Annalect showing that people now trust social media influencers almost as much as they do their friends, it's an avenue that our pollies should definitely explore. Word to the wise: Hugh Jackman has 6.4 million Twitter followers. Call him.

5. Don't Forget Twitter

Twitter is no longer the new platform on the block; both user growth and advertising revenue are slowing. But as a news driver, it's unequalled. In the US, it is Twitter which has consistently driven the conversation between the candidates and their supporters, and the candidates and their rivals -- not to mention the journalists -- more than any other medium, whether social or traditional. #UseIt.