What financial professionals can learn from social media and politics

By Amy McIlwain

Financial Social Media Marketing


Social media is currently an instrumental force for both politicians and voters. However, despite common assumption, it’s not simply about who has the most followers and which hashtags are trending — there’s more to the puzzle. Here are some important insights that business and social financial professionals can learn from social media and politics.

For the 2012 presidential debates, I’ve found myself gravitating to Twitter and Facebook more than ever to listen to the ensuing wave of political chatter. For me, it’s humorous, interesting and informative to read the commentary associated with the candidates. I particularly enjoy reading what my friends say and how the social population at large reacts to issues and statements made by the candidates.

Now, I admit I’m a social media connoisseur, but flocking to social media is a trend that’s not unique to me. In fact, in a recent study, the Pew Research Center discovered that some 66 percent of social media users have “promoted political or socio-political issues and one-third have used their social platforms to post their own opinions and to share content about political matters.”

In the 2008 presidential election, social media had a face but wasn’t the center stage of conversations, debates and news consumption. Fast forward to four short years later. Social media is currently an instrumental force for both politicians and voters. However, despite common assumption, it’s not simply about who has the most followers and which hashtags are trending — there’s more to the puzzle. Here are some important insights that business and social financial professionals can learn from social media and politics.

Learn what resonates: If you’re following Romney or Obama on any of the social networks, you’ve probably noticed the influx of political messages, ads and promotions on your stream. While these posts may seem trivial, they are instrumental in helping the campaign committees gather information about what messages resonate and why. The campaign committees also target different audiences with different demographics. Both Romney and Obama have a separate Facebook page for women — Women for Mitt and Women for Obama. As a business professional, you, too, should monitor what resonates with your audience and constantly re-shape your posts to cater to the needs of your audience. In some cases, consider creating different posts or campaigns for different audiences. For example, if you target retirees and college students, the messages should be altered appropriately.
Likes versus engagement: Many people believe that quantity is more than quality when it comes to Facebook fans. While a high number of Facebook fans is aesthetically appealing for your brand, it doesn’t mean that your content is reaching and/or influencing your audience. For instance, Barack Obama has over 30 million fans. But when you look at the “talking about this” metric, it only amounts to about 3 million. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has about one-third of the fans that Barack Obama has, but he too has about 3 million “talking about this.” As social media continues to play a role in politics, we’ll eventually discover which is more valuable – fans or engagement.

Trending hashtags aren’t the end-all-be-all: Upon logging on to Twitter, many users look at the trending hashtags in their area at that time. While it seems that hashtags are king when it comes to influencing others, they’re actually not. In fact, “Obama campaign officials said friend-to-friend validation and contact is more important than whether #bindersfullofwomen is trending.” Knowing that, Facebook offers the most power in terms of outreach and targeting persuadable voters. Because friends of friends are factored into Obama’s 31 million Facebook followers, through sharing, they can distribute — without cost — content that potentially reaches almost everyone in the U.S. Take into serious consideration that friends listen to their trusted friends more than anyone else. Aim to get as many people as possible to recommend you or your business to their friends. Also aim to drive as much engagement as you can to your social platforms — because friends-of-friends will see it!

Be timely: During the recent presidential debate at Hofstra University, 7.2 million people posted Twitter messages that referenced the candidates, the debate and related topics. During the 90-minute debate, Obama’s Twitter account (@BarackObama) sent out 37 messages whereas Mitt Romney’s account (@MittRomey) only sent out two. Obama’s messages were re-tweeted an upwards of 115,000 times; Romney’s were re-tweeted about 6,000 times. As a business and financial professional, you can learn a few things with this tweet disparity. Prepare to engage your audience when you know they’ll be listening. For example, if you’re having a speaking engagement, Webinar, event or presentation, make sure you’re online tweeting and posting about it. In that debate, Obama got over three times the amount of direct engagement because his marketing team provided real-time tweets throughout the segment. Because this is the first election that social media is playing a big role, we will be able to gather data and metrics about what matters regarding social activity. The data that will come from this election will not only be useful to politicians, but also business and financial professionals seeking to market their products and services.