Trying to avoid political rants on social media, or politics in general, is nearly impossible these days.
One option includes going on a “social media fast” for the next 10 months, until after the general election in November. Or you can just accept the fact that your friends are going to occasionally post things you disagree with.
For some, election seasons are a true test of social media friendships. If you’re a Hillary Clinton supporter posting too many slams about other candidates, you’ll probably lose a friend or two.
If you’re like my Facebook friend who posted, “Keep posting negative stuff about Hillary, and I’m unfriending you. You’re clearly not my friend,” losing a few Facebook friends won’t keep you up at night.
But you don’t have to engage in politics on social media to enjoy the sideshow. In fact, you might learn something by snooping around.
How presidential candidates are using social media, how they connect with voters in different regions of the country, is fascinating to watch.
Following candidates on social media doesn’t mean you have to vote for or even endorse a particular candidate. Social media students will tell you that it’s important to see how other candidates are using social media.
In the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses, here’s a quick review of how some of the leading candidates are courting voters on social media.
Sanders on Snapchat
Sanders’ use of social media is an important part of his overall strategy for attracting young voters, so it should surprise no one to see his team using Snapchat.
For example, Iowa voters can add Sanders-themed overlays to the app. The campaign sends out video and picture Snaps of Sanders on the trail, and encourages users to share the Snaps with friends.
If you’re in Iowa, or can access the filters, check out the “Feel the Bern” tagline and filter with a cartoon overlay of Sanders.
Trump on Twitter
Love him or hate him (and if you’re on social media, it seems there’s no in-between), Trump has a powerful presence on Twitter. With more than 5.8 million followers, most of his “challenge” tweets (i.e., calling out other candidates, media outlets) get thousands of retweets and favorites. If you think Trump is brash in front of the camera, his tweets are equally aggressive.
We already know that Trump is unapologetically politically incorrect. One tweet to his followers last week read, “Being politically correct takes too much time. We have too much to get done!,” which garnered more than 3,000 retweets and favorites.
Of course, these aren’t the only candidates using social media in interesting ways.
Like Trump, Ted Cruz has an active Twitter following, and according to his campaign, he reads and directly responds to some tweets (most candidates leave that work to their social media teams).
Be sure to check out Clinton’s Instagram account, dominated with images of Clinton supporters.
If you have a favorite candidate using social media to connect with voters, share it with me on Twitter at @adamearn or in the comments section of this post.
When new users log on to Twitter for the first time, they’re often baffled by the simplicity of the platform. “This is it?” one of my students once lamented.
“No,” I replied. “There’s so much more.”
For all the hype, new Twitter users do expect more. Despite its recent financial hurdles, Twitter still stands as a must-have, must-use tool for those hoping to create a robust social media presence.
When introducing the first Twitter assignment in my social media courses, I often say, “Now stop working and start playing.”
That really is the trick to hook new users. If you think of Twitter as work, you won’t use it. But if you spend time playing, trying all of the features (hint: There’s more to Twitter than tweets), following new and interesting people and businesses, and building your network, it starts to feel less like an annoying task and more like, well, fun.
There are many services to help us explore Twitter. Here are some apps my students use when expanding their Twitterverse:
Crowdfire. Although they label their product as a “holistic friend management platform,” Crowdfire is much more than an organizing tool. When I read the word “manage” in relation to Twitter, I often think about “churning,” or the massive following and unfollowing of users as a way to build followers.
Click here to visit Crowdfire.
Churning is a big no-no. Crowdfire looks down on churning, and Twitter will suspend accounts of habitual churners.
But Crowdfire is about much more than building a following. Sure, you can find inactive users and unfollowers, and Crowdfire gives you the option to unfollow them.
You can also find relevant users to follow (using the “Copy Followers” tool), examine how your tweets impact follower statistics (and you losing followers due to inactivity), and check relationships between any two Twitter accounts.
I manage multiple Twitter accounts, and I use Crowdfire to help manage all of them. Crowdfire also is useful for managing your Instagram accounts.
Twiends. I was introduced to Twiends during a conversation with a former student (thanks Jordan Uhl), and my Twitter life was forever changed.
Click here to visit Twiends.
Twiends plants “seeds,” a metaphor for growing relationships on Twitter using their introduction service. They plant the seeds and your new connections grow. In a matter of a few months, my followers grew by 50 percent. That might not sound like a lot, but I was stuck at around 1,200 followers for years.
They also provide an “interest-based directory,” so when you add yourself to Twiends, you’re also added to subdirectories based on interests. You find people like you, and they can find you.
It’s important to note that Twiends does not sell Twitter followers, and they won’t automatically add followers to your account. If you’re an active Twitter user, you probably get ads promising to sell Twitter followers.
As Twiends notes, “Not only is it a bad idea, but it is strictly prohibited.”
Like Crowdfire, Twiends is also useful for building Instagram followers.
Both Twiends and Crowdfire are “freemium” services, which means they are free to use, but you can pay for upgrades for additional features.
A few months ago, the mother of a teenager approached me with a question about her daughter’s Snapchat activity.
“What in the world are they ‘Snapchatting’ about?”
The question was funny to me for a few reasons.
First, her question came at the end of social media talk I was delivering to a small group of senior citizens (most senior citizens don’t use Snapchat, but it would be cool if they did). The mother worked at the community center, and sat in with the seniors, eager to learn more about the basics.
She wanted to learn more about how to use social media, maybe to connect more with her daughter, but definitely to learn more about what her daughter was doing on Snapchat.
Second, I actually LOLed (laughed out loud) when she asked. But she wasn’t joking. Quite the opposite, she was very serious.
Snapchat, the photo and video sharing service, is a must-have app for teens with smartphones.
Users send “Snaps” for all followers to see, or identify specific recipients from a list of friends, setting a time limit (usually 10 seconds) for how long those Snaps will be viewable.
Snapchat doesn’t reveal usage statistics. But according to a study conducted by The Wall Street Journal, Snapchat had more than 100 million active users in early 2015.
My first response to the mom was, “Why don’t you ask her what she Snapping about?” To which she responded, “I don’t want her to think I don’t trust her.”
Of course, this opened the door to questions about privacy and trust and, well, teenagers. That’s a topic for another column. But it did lead us to an interesting study about the content of teen Snaps.
In the January issue of Computers in Human Behavior, Lukasz Piwek and Adam Joinson, researchers at the University of the West of England’s Centre for the Study of Behaviour Change and Influence, explored the use of Snapchat among teens.
The premise of the study was pretty simple. Piwek and Joinson asked Snapchat users about the details of the last image or video each participant sent and received via Snapchat.
As you might expect, more than half of the teens reported sharing and receiving selfies, usually with some text and doodles over the photos. They also reported sharing and receiving images of screenshots, food, other people and animals.
For the most part, teens said they were “at home” when using Snapchat.
Piwek and Joinson also found that teens are using Snapchat to connect with close friends and family. They claim it is “easier” and “funnier” than other instant messaging services such as Facebook messenger or texting.
Teens in this study also said they were using Snapchat to bond rather than build networks. In other words, teens are using Snapchat to feel more connected with others rather than expand their social capital.
Although this study confirms what we think we know about teens and Snapchat, parents still need to be vigilant.
Mom won’t know for sure what her daughter is sharing without asking and, when necessary, snooping.
Interns are cool.
Most are smart, resourceful, and hard working. I know this because I’ve been directing our communication internship program at Youngstown State University, off and on, for the last seven years.
During those seven years, we started to introduce social media management courses into the curriculum. Students are now learning social media strategies for businesses. Because of (or in spite of) these courses, we receive a ton of requests for social media interns.
The general consensus among many small business owners is pretty simple. Hire an intern and your wildest social media marketing dreams will come true.
Of course, this myth leads to disappointment for the business and the intern. When a new request for an intern comes in now, we ask for a job description. That description details what the intern will “do” and “learn.”
Let’s be clear about one thing: interns should not be directing your social media strategy, regardless of your business (unless they’re the next Chris Brogan or Jay Baer; those are social media marketing gurus).
Interns can be inventive and knowledgeable, but they need to be led.
Giving interns a little freedom to practice what they know can be good for everyone. Giving interns a lot of direction (and a chance to learn about your business) is more important.
When developing a social media intern job description, here are three surefire tasks to include that will give students some much-needed direction and experience:
1. Check Out The Competition
Paranoia is a good thing. Lon Safko, author of The Social Media Bible, said “a preoccupation with what your competitors are doing and what people are saying about what they are doing is advantageous. The entire $50 billion market research industry thrives on paranoia.”
If your business doesn’t have a tool for researching social media feeds, ask your intern to develop one. It doesn’t have to be costly or extravagant (although there are some good, moderately priced social media listening tools out there).
For example, an intern might use something as simple as TweetDeck to check the Twitter feeds of a few competitors. This also helps your intern listen to customers, learn about the business, and start to develop a sense of loyalty to your company.
2. Social Media (Mini) Reports
Now that your intern is listening to the competition, ask for periodic updates on what strategies other businesses are using. Also, as Safko notes, explore customer posts. Interns can gather and analyze social media posts from customers, and how competitors engage those customers.
Knowing what customers are saying about you and your competitors will help shape future social media marketing campaigns.
3. Communicate With Customers
Interns can help you communicate directly with customers, including tastemakers and influencers. These people are highly engaged, prolific social media users. They drive conversations about your company and competitors. They test your products, use your services, and post those experiences online (good or bad).
Ask your intern to develop a comprehensive list of social media users who actively post about your business. Working with your intern, develop a plan to engage those influencers.
Your intern can be the communication link between select influencers and your company while you’re off doing other things, like becoming the social media envy of your industry.
2016 promises to be another exciting year in the expansion of social media. Here are two trends that may dominate the social media headlines next year:
In many ways, virtual reality, or VR, has suffered the same plight as 3-D technology.
When I was a kid in the 1970s, 3-D was all the rage. We put on crappy paper glasses with blue and red tinted plastic lenses to watch “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The experience left us wanting more. It never really worked. It never felt like the creature would jump off the screen and attack us.
Fast forward 30 years, and 3-D is cool again. Most big-budget action movies have 3-D options for viewing, thanks in large part to James Cameron’s “Avatar.” We can easily purchase 3-D televisions for our homes.
3-D is a once again a part of our entertainment vernacular.
But like 3-D, VR technology was inadequate. The idea of creating these immersive, artificial worlds was great, but the technology was limited to teaching pilots learn to fly in simulators. Even if you wanted a VR system for your home, it cost too much and the uses were limited.
Enter Oculus (and their VR product, Oculus Rift) and other companies set on making VR as much as part of our entertainment needs as 3-D. The difference between VR and 3-D, however, is the application to social media.
There’s a reason why Facebook spent $2 billion to purchase Oculus VR, and it’s not because Mark Zuckerberg needed a new toy.
VR is a new way to connect with others, a new form of social media. VR might be used to connect gamers, but other applications promise to immerse people from around the world in the same virtual environment, at same concerts, sporting events, and other important social and cultural experiences.
Social Media in the Classroom
Kenneth Green, director of The Campus Computing Project, wrote “the pace of innovation in higher education can be measured by the 40 years it took to get the overhead projector out of the bowling alley and into the classroom.”
The same can be said of social media. We were slow to adopt the Internet for teaching, and even slower to use social media for learning. We’re not really teaching students, from an early age, how to find good, credible information via social media. But we know they go to social media every day to learn about the world.
Whether students are taking a classes online or in a traditional classroom, most of them have almost immediate access to technology that is far superior to what we had 10 years ago: smartphones.
The good news is that more teachers are asking students to whip out their phones in class to find information. Some educators are developing lesson plans to teach students how to use these devices to find information they can trust, and to be good stewards of misinformation.
Beyond classrooms and VR, here’s hoping that social media in 2016 gives us new options for connecting with the world around us.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.