Social Networking for Liberty
By Andrew Sharp
Let's face facts. The world has gone "social," and there's no turning back.
Take, for instance, Facebook. What was once a place for college students to share silly pictures and gossip about annoying professors has become a pervasive, all-encompassing fixture of modern life that shades human interactions from personal relationships to national movements. Over half of the country's entire population is on Facebook, and it ranks behind only Google in web traffic.
Other social networking sites like YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn have also become powerhouses of web activity, coming in at 3rd, 7th, and 12th respectively in the traffic rankings.
The question for liberty activists is how to harness the awesome power of social media sites for the benefit of our movement-without wasting time or getting distracted by the many, many unproductive options in the cyberverse (I'm looking at you, Farmville). I'll primarily deal with Facebook strategies here, given its overwhelming dominance of social media, but many of these tactics can be easily adapted to other sites.
It's precisely because so many people use Facebook that it's necessary to approach it from an activist's perspective and develop a goal-oriented social media strategy for your YAL Chapter. If you're using social media without an advance plan, you're wasting your own time and hurting your group by not taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by social media.
Assigning one person to be in charge of the creation and implementation of social media strategy is a crucial first step.
Whether your chapter is newly-forming or has been around since YAL began, begin by designating a dedicated, internet-savvy chapter member as "Director of Social Media" (or something of that nature) to manage your group's profiles on social media sites. This includes making sure the pages are up-to-date with relevant posts and information, deleting spam and irrelevant or offensive posts, and-above all-advancing your YAL chapter's goal of getting the message of liberty out to your fellow students.
The first task of the Social Media Director should be to make sure your group's profiles are up-to-date. The "info" section on your Facebook fan page should include a short description of your group and your weekly meeting time and location (this level of detail may not be possible on Twitter). You should also include your group's website (if applicable), a list of your officers (President, Vice President, Secretary, etc.), and a list links to your other social media pages.
You don't want to annoy your network with too many posts and messages, but you do want to keep them updated consistently. Striking the right balance of updates is a key role of the Social Media Director, who should outline a schedule of the timing and frequency of posts and messages that will come from your group's pages.
For example, you should send out a mass message to your Facebook group or page at least once a week, giving your members an update on your recent news, next meeting, action items, etc. Scheduling this weekly update on the same day and time will make it much more likely that people will read it.
This schedule should also include a plan to post other links of interest to the group, like updates from YAL National's blog or local news stories. Post at least once a day on Facebook and at least twice a day on Twitter. Of course, don't worry if you miss a day or need to take the weekend off.
Whenever possible, include a "call to action" which asks your members to complete a simple and specific task. This could range from something as simple as liking a post to something more complex such as contacting a member of Congress or printing off flyers to hand out on campus.
Another important duty of the Social Media Director is to create Facebook events for each of your chapter's activism projects. This will help you spread the word while saving time, because Facebook allows you to invite all of the members of your group to the event instantly.
It's also a great way to keep people updated about upcoming events, because once they RSVP you'll be able to message them based on their RSVP choice. You can also discuss the event with other members on the event page's wall and tag the event in status updates and posts by typing an "@" and then the name of the event.
Your chapter's Social Media Director will also be responsible for replying to people who comment on or tweet to your page. This is, after all, social media, so staying interactive and conversational is an important aspect of keeping supporters engaged with your group online. No one will want to be part of a group if they feel like no one is listening to them. The Social Media Director should check all of the group's pages at least once a day to reply to comments.
In addition, the Social Media Director should work with whomever is in charge of taking pictures and video for your group to get that content edited and posted on your social networking sites in a timely manner. The more media you have on your site, the better. It will add personality to your group and demonstrates that you actually exist offline.
Adding media to your sites involves much more than just hitting the "upload" button. For example, YouTube videos should have keyword tags, descriptions, and good titles so that they show up in searches. If you have a lot of footage from an event, it's better to upload multiple shorter videos than one long one. Make your pictures easily searchable and accessible as well by adding keyword tags, and be sure to add photos from the same event into one album to make it easier to share.
Aside from the Social Media Director, the rest of the members in your chapter can also help spread your group's message and activities through their own profiles.
Activating your membership to share your content in their personal networks is a good way to increase your impact. Encourage them to invite others to your events, share YouTube videos, and "like" your Facebook page. Announce these action items and concrete social media goals at your chapter meetings, and then follow through online with messages and invitations to groups and events.
Finally, here are some Do's and Don't's for executing your strategy effectively:
- Use social networks to reinforce what you do offline, including activism, recruitment, and major events.
- Keep conversations civil and encourage people who have complaints or questions to contact your group via email.
- Integrate your social media sites (encourage people on Twitter to join your Facebook group, encourage people on Facebook to subscribe to your YouTube channel, etc.).
- Shorten links on Twitter using bit.ly or ow.ly. You should create an account with one of these sites so that you can track how many people click on your links.
- Have someone in your group create a graphic for your profiles that has the YAL logo and your university's name. If you have a good graphic designer in your group, have them create a background graphic for your YouTube and Twitter pages.
- Use correct grammar and punctuation at all times.
- Ever spend more than 5 minutes debating with someone on Facebook.
- Make your group "closed." People won't want to join your group if they have to be "approved" in order to do so.
- "Protect" your tweets. Again, people won't follow you if they need approval to do so.
- "Connect" your Facebook page to your Twitter feed. Twitter posts should be created on the Twitter.com website and not automatically generated.
- Use the first person unless you also post your name. (Replace "I think this is a good resource" with "This is a good resource").
- Make posts in support of or opposing a candidate for office. This is illegal because of YAL's tax status.
If you have any questions about social media, YAL National is here to help! Simply email email@example.com with your query and it will be directed to me or someone else on the team who can assist you.
Andrew Sharp is a recent graduate of Indiana University with a BA in Philosophy and Political Science. He is currently YAL's Social Networking Intern.