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electionlineWeekly — October 19, 2017

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I. In Focus This Week

Social media opens avenues of communication
Twitter, Facebook other social media easily scalable for elections officials

By M. Mindy Moretti
Electionline.org

Nearly two-thirds of all Americans are on one form of social media or another — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Americans say they get their news from social media and half of the public used these sites to learn about the 2016 presidential election.

Love it or hate it — and there are definitely both camps — social media is a part of our everyday lives and can be an effective and perhaps most importantly inexpensive, way for elections officials to reach out to voters.

“Social media is great for organizations and election offices because it’s so easily scalable and allows two-way communication,” said Matthew Morse wit Intesa Communications Group and formerly with Pew’s Election Initiatives. “For the first time ever, one person sitting in an election office can broadcast information to hundreds, even thousands of users with ease, then answer questions and have a public conversation in real time.”

Morse said it’s important for elections officials to be active and communication using the tools their constituents already use.

“Despite common stereotypes about who uses social media, there is, in fact, a hugely diverse community using these platforms, which spans across age, race, gender, and wealth distributions,” Morse said.

One Twitter account that caught electionline’s eye is that of Harford County, Maryland [and I’m not just saying that because my parents have been happy HarCo voters for more than 50 years]. The account, which is run by Sarah Mohan, program manager - Media and Outreach for the Harford County Board of Elections, is timely, informative and can be pretty funny too.

“Each morning I check what the national day or week is. I will base a few tweets off of that. I also check what is trending for that day. I usually try to connect it to something election related,” Mohan explained. “I have also found that giving the voters of Harford County a glimpse into our office and the faces behind the election gets great feedback. I started #FunFactFriday when I initially took over the social media a little over a year ago. I try to keep the sites fun but informative. Election related but also not too dry. It keeps the voters engaged.”

Mohan noted that she’s fortunate that her directory and deputy director give her creative freedom with the board’s social media posts.

“As an office we stay non-partisan and our posts are no exception. If there is something going on in the world or a post that I think could come across as something that doesn’t reflect our mission, approval is necessary,” Mohan said. “I also make sure to watch what we like, retweet and share.” 

Mohan said for those elections officials who are just getting started in social media, it’s important to make sure they get the correct information to the voters, but also in an engaging way — fun but appropriate. She also noted that liking, sharing and retweeting are your best friend.

“The more you help other social media accounts, the more they help you,” Mohan said. “It’s networking for the technological age. Also, pictures and GIFs will get you places. Everyone loves a relatable GIF and pictures are more appealing than a few words. Branding your own hashtag is great too (#HarfordVotes) it helps other uses get the big picture of what you’re all about.”

While Harford County’s site is run by their media outreach coordinator, elections offices don’t necessarily need to rely on a communications staffer/department to run their accounts. In Minneapolis, Mitch Kampf who runs the city’s social media accounts actually started as a temporary worker in absentee voting.

“…[O]nce we learned of his background with films and photography, we quickly shifted his time with us toward creating videos and building our social media presence—work that he maintained through the 2016 election and into 2017,” explained Tim Schwartz, election administrator for the City of Minneapolis. “He was able to make create pieces that were informative while being entertaining. His stuff just looks good!”

In addition to running the social media accounts, Kampf has created several YouTube videos for the city including spots about vote-by-mail, early voting and a behind the scenes video of Minneapolis elections.

Like Mohan, Kampf keeps a pretty close eye on current events and the elections calendar to curate his social media post, but he also doesn’t have a plan so-to-speak.

“Honestly, it’s pretty fast and free-flowing,” Kampf said. “I keep track of major elections milestones to post like National Voter Registration Day, the MN pre-registration deadline, the start of early voting, etc. I find it best to work without a formal calendar because social media is about starting or engaging in a conversation. We don’t plan out our everyday conversations weeks ahead of time, we react as events happen or new information comes to light.”

Kampf said it’s important not to take social media too seriously. He noted that lots of brands or agencies have started treating social media in too official of a capacity. For content creation, he likes to think there are three pilliars: Inform, Education, Entertain.

“Most people get the first tow, but being able to entertain and captivate an audience is really what matters most,” Kampf said. “The average person has no interest in following accounts that throw dates and numbers at them constantly. Sure, that information is important to give, especially for elections-related accounts but allowing yourself the creative space to be weird or irreverent, in my own experience, ends up spreading your overall message much better.”

Cameron Sasnett, general registrar in Fairfax County, Virginia has found Facebook Live to be a useful tool. The Office of Elections uses Facebook Live to provide information about early voting and other elections announcements, but Sasnett also uses it on his personal Facebook page which is followed by many Virginia elections officials.

“On election night in 2016, I was down on the loading dock at my office watching the election materials return and decided to turn on my own personal Facebook Live to show off the tremendous work and coordination of my team and the logistics involved in the process,” Sasnett said. Since then, I’ve done my own Facebook live posts to give more of a “behind the scenes” insights of Election Day and night in my office.”

With a gubernatorial election fast-approaching, Sasnett said he plans to utilize Facebook Live again.

“Currently plans are similar to last year.  We’ll do a number of OPA Facebook Live updates towards Election Day, reminding people of Absentee Voting deadlines and locations.  We will also most likely have a Facebook Live with information about Election Day,” Sasnett said. We may perhaps even have a Facebook Live during the post election canvass to give the public insight as to how the results are reviewed and certified locally.”

Many elections officials have Facebook and Twitter accounts and some, like Mohan in Harford County, have ventured into other platforms such as Instagram with varying degrees of success.

“Facebook and Twitter are the bread and butter of social media, and these should be a first and necessary step,” Morse said. “Other platforms are great too, but always remember the rule of quantity over quality. It’s better to have a great communications plan for two platforms than a poor execution across half a dozen.”

Additionally, Morse said, it’s important to view social media as a tool, not a panacea. It’s also important to have a plan for traditional media, alongside an on-the-ground strategy for meeting voters’ needs.