For most people the experience of putting something through the spin cycle is to have your clothes shrink in the dryer. But for Wellington City Council, an attempt to spin the merits of reducing a potential 7.1% rates rise down to 3.9% has ended up with an announcement that they're reducing rates down to 3.9%, which would be a 96.1% cut!
I can see how this has happened. It's hardly new for politicians to try and be too clever by half about announcements, especially when they know it's news that isn't going to be universally popular.
In this case, the words "rise" or "increase" appear to have been omitted from the article. To illustrate the importance of those two words, 1News' story about the announcement has interpreted the press release as meaning Wellington City Council will be reducing rates by 3.9%.
Rate rises are seldom popular, but ultimately they are necessary. As much as local authorities try and cut as much fat from their budgets as possible, the reality is that most councils have a very limited funding base on which to raise revenue. Wellington City Council is in a better position than most via having some good revenue generating assets to support things rather than just rate payers, but they're also faced with significant costs relating to natural disaster preparedness.
The real moral of the story here is that it sometimes pays to just call a spade a spade and not get too tricky about the message you're trying to tell. Politicians are always going to want to emphasise the reasoning behind or positive aspects of often controversial decisions they've had to make, but the risk is that eventually you're going to say something completely different than what you were intending.
Congratulations, you're an MP in the 52nd Parliament. To help speed you on your way, I thought I'd chuck together a few dos and don'ts based off my experience of using social media and digital channels in a digital context. I've literally written as much as I could think of, but there are undoubtedly things I've missed.
- Have at the very least a Facebook page and Twitter handle.
Facebook is your most important channel for reaching voters. It has upwards of 2-2.4 million active users in New Zealand each month, and with a much more mature content and advertising platform, you're more likely to reach people in your local community. Reliable Twitter numbers are harder to come by, especially when it comes to active users, but Twitter's real strength is the influential people who use it - journalists, business leaders, bloggers, respected tweeters. Other social media channels worth investigating, in order of priority, are: Instagram, Neighbourly, and if you become a Minister, LinkedIn (more on this later).
- At a bare minimum you should be posting on your main social media channels three or four times a week.
A good goal to aim for is at least one post a day on Facebook and maybe two or three tweets per day. When things get especially busy, such as when the House is sitting, or you're out and about in your electorate, you can bump your Facebook posts up to two or three a day, spaced out throughout the day.
- Use your smartphone to create content on the go.
Smartphones are hugely powerful content creation tools. Whether it's taking a quick photo, or recording a short 30 second video, it's easier than ever to create original content for your social media profiles. Facebook in particularly is putting an emphasis on live video.
- Engage with your audience by asking them questions and answering theirs.
As an MP you'll get asked lots, and lots, and lots of questions, and social media has made you more accessible to voters than ever before.
An easy way to get people to engage with your content is to ask a question in it, whether it's people's thoughts about an issue in your electorate, or even something like where their favourite local cafe is (not everything has to be deadly serious all the time). Also don't be afraid to answer questions too, even tricky ones and, if you don't have the answer, commit to finding out the answer and get back to them.
- Get help managing your social media channels.
You have Parliamentary support staff, get them to help out managing some of the day-to-day stuff around your social media channels. You're also likely to have some form of centralised support from your party's Leader's office, make use of that too.
- Share your leader's and party's content.
Speaking of Leader's offices and political parties, they're going to put out a lot of easy content for you to share to your audience. Always try to add your own take onto whatever you're sharing too, especially if there's a tangible local angle for your community. For example, if there's new funding announced for new classrooms, and a school in your community is going to get a new classroom as a result of that funding, then make a big deal about it.
- Find local issues you can champion.
You're either an electorate MP or you've based yourself in an electorate. Identify a local issue that's important to your community, and become the champion of it. I can't stress how important this is to giving you runs on the board with the people who are going to vote for you. If you want a really good example of someone who does this constantly, look at National's Chris Bishop. He has picked up issue, after issue, after issue and championed them, even very difficult ones. He's run petitions, public meetings, leaflet drops, met with local and central government, and I think it's played a significant role in him winning Hutt South.
I want to assume that you're familiar with the key issues facing your community, but if you're not, your local community newspapers, Facebook groups, and Neighbourly noticeboards are really good places to keep up-to-date with what's pushing people's buttons. If all that fails, get out there and survey your community, whether it's through physical flyer drops, or Facebook advertising, it's a useful way to show your community that you're there to be a leader and champion for them.
- Use Facebook's advertising tools.
Facebook has a comprehensive advertising platform and, used well, can deliver very effective bang for your advertising bucks. The problem is, a lot of MPs don't use Facebook advertising well, choosing to advertise meaningless content to their audience, or to audiences that aren't likely to ever want anything to do with them. There's lots of professional advice available to help you make the most of Facebook advertising, and there's a good chance your Leader's office or party will be able to provide some assistance in this regard too.
It's not all about page like ads or promoted posts either. There's a lot of more powerful tools available like canvas ads or lead forms that can really benefit you further down the track too.
- Have a website, an email newsletter, and keep them both up-to-date
Too often MPs get a website, and create an email newsletter, then let both fall into disuse. Your website should contain links to all your social media profiles, an ability to sign up to, and read previous editions of your email newsletters, as well as contain all your press releases. It's also a good place to keep a visible record of events you've held, or are going to hold.
- Make use of videos from In the House.
In the House (or Parliament TV on Demand) is an amazing service that the New Zealand Parliament provides. And for you, as an MP, it's an easy way for you to source video clips of you in action in the debating chamber. Whether it's your maiden speech, a question you're asking (or answering well!), or participating in the General Debate, there are plenty of opportunities to use this content to highlight the work you're doing. Be aware that there are rules around using it (Standing Orders Appendix D, Part B).
- Set up a hidden Facebook page to test content on.
The one thing that still gives me nightmares is Facebook live videos. While it's pretty damned amazing that your phone can be turned into a one-person broadcasting solution, it's also very prone to falling over, even if tested thoroughly! If you can, get one of your staff to set up an unpublished Facebook page that you can test things on before they go out in the wild. Whether it's testing a live stream location for mobile data stability and speed, seeing how a designed graphic or post-produced video might appear, it's a good platform just to visually see how your content will look before everyone else sees a terrible mistake. I'll throw in a few more tips before about Facebook Live videos later.
- Use two-factor authentication where available, as well as anti-virus and malware detection software.
And don't open links in unsolicited messages on social media (or email, or any instant messaging tool). You're an MP, there is, unfortunately, a target on your back now for these sorts of things. Facebook and Twitter both offer pretty robust two-factor authentication tools.
- Read the comments. But don't take them to heart.
We so often say "Don't read the comments" on the internet, especially in relation to those on social media posts. But it's a useful thing for you to do, especially if you're going to find questions to answer and help constituents out with their issues. Just don't take any trolling or abuse you see on there to heart. Facebook has a great "Hide" tool that allows you to hide a comment from your page so that only the person who originally posted it, and their immediate friends, can see it, while no one else can.
- Feed the trolls.
You're an MP, a public figure, and not everyone is going to like you. Politicians are right down the bottom of public rankings of trust, and it takes a very special MP to break that perception. You're going to get people abusing you, asking facetious questions, and generally trying to get under your skin. Don't feel like you need to respond to them or bite at their provocations. I can tell you from personal experience it's never going to end well for you. Focus on talking with genuine people, and if someone is being abusive, you're allowed to block them from engaging on your social media profiles. On Twitter it's also very easy to mute them so you can't see what they're sending you, without them realising you've done so.
- Get in public spats on Twitter.
In a similar vein to not feeding trolls, there's little benefit in getting into public spats with MPs from other parties, journalists, bloggers, or anyone else on Twitter. You can get away with politely correcting a factual error, but leave it at that.
You're a Member of Parliament. It might be tempting to try and be edgy, and exploit a point of difference by whacking in the odd swear word, even in an abbreviation, but don't. Really don't. You're not only a leader in the community now, but there's also an implicit mana, respect, and responsibility that goes with your new role. Nothing will undermine your credibility, or ability for people to take you seriously, than if you casually swear.
- Post War and Peace.
If you've read this far, I'm probably the first person who needs to take this advice. But I'm not an MP, so let's not get distracted by my faults. Content that is short and to the point is generally going to perform best. You might want to record a two minute video explaining an announcement, but you'll be lucky if the vast majority of people will watch more than 20 seconds. Likewise, if your Facebook post triggers the "See more" prompt, people are very unlikely to click it to see what else there is. There's always exceptions to this rule, but you're not Boris Johnson, and you're not Bill English or Jacinda Ardern offering a look at their lives, so let's not go there.
The same goes for email newsletters. People don't want 3,000 words on every detail of your week as an MP. They want 300 words and a handful of good photos that cover one or two highlights from your week.
- Sign up for advertising packages with media companies that include a digital component.
As part of your role as an MP, you're going to end up running ads in local newspapers promoting your contact details and, when you do that, there's a chance they're going to try and get you to sign up for them to run social media ads for you too. Don't do this, you'll end up paying upwards of two, three, or even fours times what you would if you ran the ads yourself to reach the same number of people. Your Leader's office, or if you've hired well, your Parliamentary staff, should be able to help you with this. Failing all that, there's always experts like me who are here to help, at a much more cost effective rate. So feel free to get in touch.
- Post photos form the Koru lounge.
Well this isn't entirely written in gospel. If you bump into someone interesting at the airport, feel free to post a photo with them, but don't mention you're in the Koru lounge.
- Try and do everything yourself.
As I mentioned earlier, get help. Whether it's Parliamentary staff, someone from your local party branch, or someone you hire, you don't have to do everything yourself. If you try to do it, you'll find it hugely draining, and it's not always the most productive use of your time. Obviously try and generate as much content as is practical yourself, as first-person, authentic content is much more appealing to your audience than slickly produced professional content. That's not to say that the whiz bang stuff doesn't have its place, but it's best used for big set pieces.
- Link your Facebook account to post automatically to Twitter, or vice-versa.
As I tweeted recently it's nearly 2018, not 2008, and there's no excuse to link your social media accounts to automatically post to each other anymore. Having Facebook post to Twitter ends up with terrible looking URLs in your posts pointing back to Facebook, and in return if your Twitter account posts to your Facebook automatically, Facebook's algorithm isn't inclined to serve content from a rival social network to your Facebook audience. On a similar note, if you're uploading video, try to upload it directly to either Facebook or Twitter, and only link to a YouTube channel as a last resort.
Some other ideas and things to keep in mind:
- Prioritise your social media and digital efforts.
It's better to do a couple of social media and digital channels well, then try and do them all and do them poorly. Facebook is a must given its audience size, content tools, and mature advertising platform. Used well it can make a huge difference for you. Likewise channels like Snapchat, which require you to do virtually all of the content creation and posting yourself, aren't necessarily the best use of your time relative to the audiences you can reach elsewhere.
- As powerful as a Facebook page and Twitter can be, there's other tools.
Having a personal profile on Facebook can still be useful, especially if you belong to and participate in the various community groups. You can't participate in these groups as a page, so you have to still have a profile to be involve on them. Likewise, Neighbourly, despite its sometimes clunky interface, can be a very useful tool for participating in your community. The key thing to remember about Facebook community groups and Neighbourly is to not be overly political in them. These are effectively community noticeboards, and people aren't wanting to be overtly politicked to on them. Taking part in these groups is more about the bread and butter parts of being a local MP.
- Test Facebook Live on a hidden page before you go live for real.
And be prepared for it to drop out mid-broadcast even if you have tested it. I've extensively tested 4G connections before, had everything seeming to work perfectly and then, just moments into the Facebook Live broadcast, have everything fall apart. It's part and parcel of working with technology and the reality of trying to do deliver Obama like quality on a Ohakune sized budget. But do try new things like this. The worst that happens is that it doesn't work and you can make a joke at your expense about technological gremlins getting the better of you. It's obviously always a little easier if you can get professionals in to advise and help out.
- Are you a Minister or are a spokesperson for a portfolio with a significant professional audience? Think about going on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn gets a lot of stick for being a bunch of professionals talking about how wonderful they are, and what an influential thought leader they are. And let's be honest, there's a lot of that taking place on LinkedIn, but it's also a good way to directly reach a niche audience that mightn't be as readily visible on other social networks. It's more suited to long-form posts, and as people are posting via their professional personas, you're likely to get a more civilised level of engagement with your content than you might get elsewhere.
- Play to each social media channel's strengths.
Each social media network has certain strengths, so make use of them. Facebook has an amazing ability to reach a huge audience with really sound content tools and a mature advertising platform - use these! Likewise Twitter is good for the here and now stuff. If news is breaking, it breaks first on Twitter, so make use it for that. Instagram is all about beautiful photos (even with the inclusion of video, it's still about photos), so if you have amazing photos, save them to use them on Instagram. Local issues reign supreme in Facebook groups and Neighbourly, so get involved and champion them.
Remember, your campaign for re-election in 2020 starts now. You can't just show up six months out from the 2020 election and hope that a flurry of social media activity will shore up your prospects. Even if you're in a safe as houses party stronghold, there's always the risk of someone internally challenging your re-selection if you're not putting in the hard yards to make the most of this incredible opportunity you've been afforded.
And finally, if you didn't get the hint from the earlier links, don't be afraid to get professional advice. Your Leader's office might provide some themselves, but you're largely going to be responsible for driving your own online efforts over the coming three years, and as an MP, you already have a massive amount of work ahead of you.