How to Say "Yes We Can" Via Social Media: Learning From Presidential Hopefuls

By Chloe Mark | September 2015

"We Like Ike," "O-bama oh-eight," - how did these phrases become so well-known, and how did they result in such successful presidential campaigns? If you're a nonprofit that similarly depends on support and donations from followers, there are a few lessons you'll want to learn from presidential campaigns of both the past and present, especially when it comes to social media marketing. social-media-presidential-campaigns-nonprofits

Obama's win in 2008 didn't just make history since he is the first African American president. He was also the first president to effectively use social media to captivate his audience. Sources show that both of his campaign's abilities to captivate his donors and voters via social media marketing was a major reason he made it to White House and stayed there (read more from MPR, Huffington Post, US News). The two graphs below say as much, comparing the 2012 candidates' social media activity (mainly on Twitter and with blogs), and how much more Obama's campaign was followed and shared. 



If 66% of social media users engage in political activism online (according to a Pew Research Poll), it is likely that they could engage with your nonprofit's message as well. Let's look at the ways presidential candidates rally this heart-felt support.

Why social media works: 

  1. Individual Agency: For the most part, people that use social media want to be engaged. They care about opportunities for individual involvement and seek a platform for their voice. Back in '08, when people saw they could be political activists through simple retweets and social shares, it worked wonders for Obama. Through showing that your nonprofit's goals are not attainable without people's support, you empower them to get involved. In the end, it is mutually beneficial as they desire to use their individual agency, and you gain their help.
  2. Social Behavior: The power behind social media is not just in the amount of information posted (i.e. countless Tweets and Facebook posts), but rather how engaged an individual is (shown through retweets and Facebook likes and shares).
    An effective social media campaign is based on the psychology of social behaviors, not the current technology
    Because of social behavior, the more passion an individual feels, the more likely he is to share a message. This results in your message spreading across social media and beyond. 

How to make it work for you: 

  1. Be knowledgeable: Obama's campaign team paid close attention to the available data to know who was online, where they spent their time and how to best attract them. When they needed to know who to call for fundraising or what to do with swing states, they went to the data. You have this ability, too: use Google Analytics or research Google Trends.Google-Analytics-campaigns
  2. Be focused: Presidential hopefuls have a specific focus - they want to be president! Your marketing campaign has to have a clear message about what you do and how you will do it. Don't try to promote everything you do on every single social channel, but instead determine your goals and your target audience based on what you learned from our first point. Read more about determining your audience in this blog, "Knowing Your Audience." social-media-presidential-campaigns
  3. Be there: With this focus on audience comes choosing your social platforms. From another study done by Pew research, 71% of the adults online use Facebook, 26% used Instagram and 23% used Twitter. This differs from what AP says of millennials, as a significant amount report that they get their news from Pinterest (36%), Reddit (23%), and Tumblr (21%). Depending on what you know of potential donors and volunteers, you may want to choose a different channel toward which you'll focus your energy. 
  4. Be specialized: Each platform takes a different strategy to best optimize it. Check out this blog from that offers a description of current social media platforms and which ones might work best for you. "What are the best social media platforms for your business?"social-media-platforms
  5. Be timely: First, know when to post and when it's a waste - you can read more with"The Best and Worst Times to Post on Social Media" guide. Second, keep your followers updated - similarly to political campaigns, convey that you're keeping them in the loop and your updates are important. Maybe this means real-time updates revealing where you are in your donation campaign, or simply the most recent news in your nonprofit's realm.
  6. Be engaged: We are not encouraging political aggression, but you can learn from the interactions between candidates. When Jeb Bush said, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” Clinton’s twitter quickly replied, “@JebBush: You are absolutely, unequivocally wrong." The back and forth between the two was a bit much, but it did get a lot of attention. For you, it may be best to reply and comment on other tweets and posts that you like and support, showing your followers that you care about what's going on elsewhere and that you have something to say as well.
  7. Be clever: "Feel the Bern" (for the Bernie Sanders campaign) has quickly turned into a popular hashtag on Twitter. In merely three words, you can increase your engagement tenfold. Think of a catchy, quick slogan or hashtag for your upcoming event or campaign. feel-the-bern-social-media-campaign
  8. Be action-oriented: Chances are, your active followers want to take action to stay involved, but you need to show them how. Link your social media posts to your website, followed by quality calls to action that direct them to their next step - whether that be to donate or register for a volunteer event. You can even just direct them to spread your message with a "share this post" message on your next status update. Hillary used "count me in" as your CTA below:Clinton-campaign-social-media
  9. Be authentic: Supporters want to see that your nonprofit is made up of REAL people. Feature candid photos of your employees or volunteers at your next event on your social pages. Or pull a Clinton - her Instagram account likes photos from followers that mention her campaign, showing that she cares that they care.  jeb-bush-social-media-campaign
  10. Be a team: Encourage your supporters to promote what you're all doing. Make it feel like an army, banded together behind your message. Become friends with your friends' friends. One major reason presidential campaigns gain so much traction is because people feel like they are part of a worthy cause, fighting the good fight for something in which they can take pride. prowd-crowds-social-media-campaignLooking for more ways to engage your audience? Contact ArcStone today to develop your strategy or have us manage your campaigns. You can also subscribe to our Newsletter, The Nerdy Nonprofit, for info on nonprofit marketing updates and events.

Topics: Business Tips, Marketing Strategy

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