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Campaign Staff Can Be a Liability in Social Media Warfare

Although social media can be relatively easy to become involved in, it brings with it long-term overhead costs for a campaign and one of the costs is associated with keeping control over social media usage. The 2016 campaign clearly showed that not all staff should be allowed to use social media tools without controlling how the tools are used and who gets to use the tools on behalf of an organization. Social media can help campaigns achieve numerous goals:

  • ? Disseminate information about the candidate and campaign in a timely fashion
  • ? Increase the impact of important messages to supporters, contributors, and voters
  • ? Leverage networks of people to spread the message of the candidate and the campaign
  • ? Tailor different messages to communicate with diverse audiences
  • ? Personalize messages from candidates for particular audiences
  • ? Keep the public engaged with the candidate and the campaign

Many campaign staff members, when paid, are hired on short notice and many others are volunteers. A limited number of campaign staff should be charged with managing social media for the campaign, and those who are selected to work on social media should be trained in ethics, protocols, and standards. It is clear that just because you take campaign staff out of their cultural environment does not mean you have taken their cultural environment out of them. In addition, campaign staff and volunteers that are not charged with social media responsibilities should be queried about their personal social media use to determine if they are or were involved in activities that may eventually be an embarrassment to the candidate or the campaign (e.g., if they have posted hate messages).

The 2016 campaigns and elections provide many lessons for future candidates and campaigns. One of those lessons is the necessity of properly managing social media usage to ensure that how social media warfare tactics are used is of actual benefit to the campaign and does not cause more harm than benefit. This can be accomplished by establishing social media policies to cover the content, subject matter, and tone that everyone in the campaign must adhere to including, and especially, the candidate.

Campaigns can hire social media consultants when resources are available. If there is a shortage of financial resources, campaign staff can still find guidance from several sources. The U.S. military services serve as an example of how to manage social media use and set polices for its use in a campaign. The service branches put a great deal of effort into social media and have a strong social media presence. The United States Army Social Media Handbook provides considerable guidance to all levels of the Army on how to best use social media to meet desired validation, relationship building, and communication to all the Army’s constituents.

Campaign managers can prepare to use social media tools by addressing what types of controls need to be in place to properly manage social media use:

  • ? Designating who in the campaign organization will establish policies and procedures necessary for governing the use of the social media tools
  • ? Designating who in the campaign organization will be responsible for managing the use of the social media tools
  • ? Designating who in the campaign organization will be able to post to social media accounts and how that can be controlled
  • ? Designating who in the campaign organization will be responsible for the day-to-day monitoring of accounts including postings or comments
  • ? Designating who in the campaign organization will be responsible for training employees on the appropriate use of the social media tools
  • ? Determining how campaign managers should evaluate the results gained from using a social media application and how that will be accomplished

As a logical first step, a person or persons in the campaign organization should be designated responsibility over the use and control of the use of social media. But before campaign staff members get too far into the realm of social media, campaign managers should develop policies regarding the use of social media applications that are officially used by and represent the campaign. Social media staff and content producers need to understand the audience they are trying to reach, apply communication literacy skills, and follow plain language practices in written communications.

Because of the virtual unlimited exposure that the Internet provides, it is also reasonable to be concerned about how campaign staff, paid or volunteer, use social media or any Internet website, functionality, or social application. In addition, we have come to realize that people tend to do really stupid things on the Internet.

in many instances, using the Internet seems to make people very careless. People often start out using the Internet with the best of intentions, not knowing or thinking about potential negative consequences. Setting guidelines for personal social media use for campaign staff, is a good first step in addressing the issues. However, it should also be recognized that the candidate should demonstrate, through their own use of social media, including content and tone, how they expect campaign staff to manage their personal use of social media.

There are a few proprietary websites that provide helpful information. One very popular website is Netiquette (, which provides the rules of good behavior online. Another helpful website is Education World (, which provides the ten commandments of computer ethics. Both may be helpful in providing ideas for training materials. Both sites are protected by copyright and permission is needed for reuse of material in most circumstances.

A campaign’s social media policy should apply to a broad range of social media applications including, but not limited to

  • ? Media sharing such as YouTube, Flickr, iTunes
  • ? Blogging/microblogging such as WordPress, Blogger, Twitter
  • ? Social networking applications such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Ning
  • ? Document sharing repositories such as Scribd, SlideShare, Socrata
  • ? Social bookmarking sites such as Delicious, Digg, Reddit

Composing social media content takes skill and experience that not all campaign staff have at high enough levels to be effective. A review of social media content clearly shows that political campaigns have yet to master content creation. Some of the worst social media writers are the candidates themselves. A campaign relies on several delivery mechanisms to communicate, including social media applications that provide short bursts of information as well as websites that provide more in-depth material.

One of the most important writing practices is the use of plain language, and that can be more of a challenge than it seems. There is a plain language movement powered by groups of writers that provides guidance on plain language composition. The website is

Campaign writers should recognize that web content is not clear unless supporters and voters can find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they find to meet their needs. Plain language writers recommend that web content is composed in an inverted pyramid style, beginning with the shortest and clearest statement you can make about your topic, and putting the most important information at the top and the background information at the bottom. Topics should be split up into logical sections separated by informative headings and unnecessary information should be omitted [3].

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