Why social media is like local newspapers

Flickr Hot TagsWhen running a campaign a good strategy always used to be to ask your supporters to write letters to their local newspaper. Local newspapers are far more widely read than their national equivalents, you’re much more likely to get your photo published in them, and because of their more tightly defined audience they present a much greater chance to contextualise your message and suggest options for local action.

In many ways, that is the campaign tactic that a strategy for web 2.0/social media should build from. It’s not about having a presence on flickr, delicious, facebook, upcoming, myspace, or any of the dozens of other “web 2.0” sites, though an official presence may be useful in some cases and personal experiences with all of them is a good idea. Instead it’s about resourcing your key supporters to be there for you, just as they would in their local papers.

Your supporters already have networks of friends/contacts in these settings that it would take you a lot of time to build. Those friends are going to pay attention to what is being said because of who said it, when if it came from an unknown campaign officer they’d be far less likely to read it. You’re likely to be busy at your events, but your supporters are free to take photos they can post on flickr and which their friends will look at whether or not they currently follow your campaign. You can put as much time as you like into creating a facebook group, but unless your friends and your supporters’ friends join it, it’ll never take off in the “viral” style you’re probably hoping for.

The task then is to educate your supporters. Encourage them to create and disseminate their own content, and back that up with good quality briefings, access to take photos, and any other options that make sense in your context. And to keep an eye on that content so you can pick from the best of it. We’ve found asking greenbelters to tag their photos with a given tag for each year hugely effective not only in making sure we get included in “top tags” lists, but also in giving us an easy way to access the resulting content and get a broader view of the feel of the festival than we otherwise would.

It’s never been and never will be possible to truly get your message everywhere. New tools may help push your content into new spaces, but the only way to effectively disseminate your message is to open it up and let others carry it for you, interpreting it through their lenses. It’s not a new idea, but it’s one that’s far more important now than it ever has been.

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