I had the opportunity to participate on a panel last week at CampaignTech, a conference targeted at campaign professionals and candidates that is organized and executed by Campaigns & Elections magazine. The subject of our panel’s discussion was “Monitoring for Rapid Response.”
Of course, keeping track of what is being said in both traditional and social media to watch for signs of activity a candidate might need to rapidly respond to is one use for monitoring. It’s also the most obvious and apparent need to many campaign professionals. But this narrow view of monitoring restricts the use to simply a reactive tool, and misses the full potential of what monitoring can do for a campaign.
Here are seven other uses for monitoring that campaigns should consider for their arsenal:
1. Monitor for issues of interest to the jurisdiction in which you are running. This is an easy one. You want to look smart in front of all of those possible constituents, right? So know what is going on in the state/county/district. Whether it’s a constituent who wants to know your position on the new landfill proposal or a local reporter trying to sink you with a “gottcha” question, if there’s something going on you should at very least make sure you are aware of the issues–and preferably, examine the issues enough to have an opinion. Bonus points go to candidates who then take that and media train themselves to have a quick, easily remembered response. You’ll look wicked smaht, as we say up here.
2. Monitor to respond to advocates of your positions to build connections. You know why you are running. You have positions staked out on a variety of topics–so why not connect with like-minded folks online? By building a relationship with individuals who share your views, you are demonstrating a willingness to connect. (Just be careful to research and fully vet any forums before participating, there are some, um, very niche forums and boards out there, and not all would be advisable.) Politicians instinctively understand the need to connect with voters through door-to-door or events. Consider your online audience another relationship-building venue.
3. Monitor to create a “poor man’s” focus group. Of course you need to be cautious about reading too much into data collected online, as it’s hardly scientific and can lead to over-representing a point of view. But chances are, if you have a local paper with an online site, they probably allow comments. While reviewing comments in and of themselves is somewhat akin to wading through toxic sludge, just looking at the raw number of comments can sometimes show you which topics are being hotly debated in the community. Check out local blogs too–and see what is of interest to the citizen reporters in your area.
4. Monitor for local events. Sure, you have a top-notch, crackerjack campaign staff who are pulling together a campaign calendar for you. But inevitably, there will be some hidden gem events that you *should* be attending. Whether it’s a new group, or something a bit apart from the standard “rubber chicken Lincoln Day” event, monitoring might uncover some gatherings of potential voters that could be of value to you.
5. Monitor for press opportunities. It’s called earned media for a reason: you have to get out there and earn it. By monitoring for potential press opportunities, you are giving your campaign a positive boost. Bonus tip: learn the beats and styles of reporters and bloggers in your relevant area/district. If there’s a story covering an issue you are focusing on in your campaign–and you aren’t in it–don’t you want to know about that too? Monitoring for your own name (or your candidate’s name) isn’t enough–you will be missing opportunities.
6. Monitor for mentions of your opponent’s activities. This feels like such a no-brainer, but I’m guessing there are at least some campaigns out there who aren’t doing this. Heck, I can almost guarantee it. Your work doesn’t stop once you’ve done your opposition research–it’s ongoing. What kind of press is your opponent getting? What are his or her supporters saying about the campaign? What is being said about your opponent in social media? Don’t wait for this stuff to come to you second- or third-hand from a volunteer on the campaign. By actively monitoring for this content, you’ll be ready to respond if and when the situation presents itself.
7. Monitor as a means of message testing. This one requires some work and thought, so dedicate some time to it–but it could prove invaluable if you do it right. Nuance is everything in politics. Just ask a politician to describe the distinction between a tax and a fee. By examining the words people are using to discuss issues in traditional and social media, you can better craft your messages. Just as the wrong word or phrase can cause someone to block the rest of what you say out, the right words will give you the opportunity to make your case to potential voters.