Top ten ways to increase your political clout on Facebook (according to me)
Whether we like it or not Facebook is here to stay and will have an impact on our politics, for better or for worse. There is much to be said about Facebook and its impact on our political discourse. Researchers know it influences how we think and what we believe. It reinforces our worldview and helps us bond with people that think like us.
I’ve done numerous social media trainings over the years and the biggest complaint I hear from organizations is that they don’t feel like anything they do on Facebook is really reaching people or making a difference.
Individuals have the similar complaints. Facebook feeds get filled up with a lot of junk, memes and rants, some that you agree with and some that you don’t. You get added to groups, you try to pay attention but then the posts start piling up and then one day you realize you are a part of 50 groups and haven’t looked at any of them in months. You only have so much attention to give.
The question then becomes; is the Facebook platform worth anything when it comes to affecting social change? This is a big question and one worth pondering. I usually come down on the side that Facebook is valuable but you have to understand its limitations and its strengths in order to utilize it most effectively for your issue.
How to think about Facebook: Facebook is a computer mediated social network. It changes our interactions. This is obvious but the implications of it aren’t. For most of us Facebook is, what political scientist Robert Putnam might call, a “bonding” social network. It reinforces and strengthens your network of people that think like you and helps mobilize solidarity. That's a good thing most of the time but it has negative consequences. It doesn’t do much to build a “bridging” network, which would bring together people who don’t think like you.
Reaching people who are politically disengaged or have a different political outlook is not a game to play on a computer.
What does that mean for how we use Facebook? It means we should be realistic about what we can accomplish with it. Maybe you don't want to accomplish anything with it and that's totally cool. This post isn't for you.
Here are my top ten do’s and don’ts based on my experience. And, with all rules, they should be broken from time to time. If you only read one, read #10, it's the most important.
- Limit meme and quote posting. Memes can be funny but also are a waste of time. How many memes did you see today and how many of them do you remember? It is important to understand that your most valuable political resource you have is your attention. It is a resource that is limited. You only have so much of it to give. Don’t waste it on memes (unless it is really funny…..like so funny that it made you snort your coffee out in the morning). This is especially true in any Facebook group you are a part of. Nothing will send me fleeing a group faster than meme and quote sharing.
- Limit the ranting. There are some people that can get away with a self-righteous rant but most can’t. Unless you are Hunter S. Thompson or have some serious self-righteousness capital built up you might want to try limited the political diatribes. You might feel pretty good afterward especially if a couple hundred people like it but there’s not much action that happens after the fact. Rants are general, political activity is specific. Rants rarely lead to others taking action. If you just need to blow off some steam, by all means rant away, but don’t expect anything to come out of it.
- Add value to content you share. We usually share articles because we think people should read them. Some of the best content I've read has been from Facebook posts. If you want more people to click and read try personalizing it. Why is that article important to you? Do you have something to add to it, an insight or a personal story that puts it into perspective? Is there a particularly compelling quote you can copy into your post?
- Treat every interaction on Facebook as if that person were standing directly in front of you. Facebook is a computer-mediated experience which inherently changes how we interact with each other. There are reasons humans have evolved complex systems of nonverbal communication; these signals clarify our intent and our emotional state. Much of that clarity is lost in our digital interactions and misunderstandings happen all the time. Ask yourself, “Would I say this to a stranger in this particular way?” before you hit the post button.
- Make lists of people and share strategically. If you take the time to make lists of your friends that have characteristics in common, such as geographical location, relationship to you, (college friends, work colleagues, acquaintances, etc.), you can share information that is relevant to them. This avoids unnecessarily cluttering up other people's feeds.
- Manage your expectations. Facebook can be powerful, but it will never replace face-to-face conversations. Focus more of your time on building your network and community with personal interactions rather than digital ones. The more you strengthen relationships off social media the more useful your social media efforts will be.
- If you are going to depress people, give them something to do about it. People don't need any help feeling helpless and hopeless. Sharing articles or educating people about problems without giving them something they can do to help tends to feed the cycle of despair. I'm guilty of this. When I see articles about our oceans I share them and then feel like giving up. In fact, I’ve done this so often that my sister sends me the most depressing posts she can find to pre-empt me from posting them and making her cry. So, if you are going to raise awareness take the time to figure out something people can do about it and let them know what it is.
- Be aware of political overload. If you frequently post about a lot of different issues people will start to tune you out thinking you are someone who is just angry at everything. Is that fair? No. Will it happen? Yes. I care about a lot of different issues and advocate for them but I understand that my sphere of influence is strongest in certain areas. Maybe ask yourself these questions before you post something: Why am I posting this right now? Is there something I can ask of my social network that will help move the ball forward on the issue? What is the best possible outcome of posting about this issue and how do I get there?
- Be yourself. Be genuine. People respond to that. I’m not going to use the word authentic because Instagram has ruined it for me. It used to be such a good word.
- Reciprocate. This is the most important piece of advice I can give you. Ask yourself this: How many times have you seen someone crowdfunding for a project and you just kept scrolling? How many times have you seen an event invitation or a page invitation and ignored it? A lot, I'm assuming. Part of the reason is that there is so much content that we get overwhelmed, but the other part is that we tend to look at Facebook as a way to reach our own goals instead of using it to strengthen and develop reciprocal relationships. If you are in the social media game for only yourself and your organization that is how it comes across. If you are using talking points people can feel they are being sold something and tune out.
The best outcomes occur when we help others meet their goals and they help us reach ours. To reap the rewards of a strong social media network you have to help others. I realize you can't do it every time but we could all do it more. You donate to your friends’ causes, even if it is just $5, because it lets them know that you are paying attention to them. You show up to events, even it if is just 5 minutes, because you want people to show up to yours. You comment on and share posts because you want people to comment on and share yours.
Making social media work for you is about building the community that you want and being the social media user that you wish other people were.Carry on Facebook users. Please feel free to comment with any thoughts of your own on this topic.