Twitter tips for my local prospective parliamentary candidates

Lots of people are bigging up the role of social networking services in this year’s election.

I have to admit, I was dubious to begin with. But services like Facebook and Twitter have been buzzing with pre-election opinions and gossip, and lots of political parties and politicians are using social networking effectively.

Eastleigh’s PPCs on Twitter

On Twitter, I decided to follow three of my local constituency candidates – Chris Huhne (Liberal Democrats), Maria Hutchings (Conservative) and Leo Barraclough (Labour) – to see what they had to say and to see how they use Twitter to engage with voters.

After following them for a few weeks, here’s what was good and what was bad. And my tips on how they could use Twitter better.

Join the conversation

Don’t just use Twitter as a soapbox for your thoughts and opinions. Make sure you get involved in the conversation too.

For example, a quick look through Chris Huhne’s feed reveals no @ replies (conversation) with anyone else (bar a ‘Twitterview’ he did with Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy). It’s almost a similar story on Maria and Leo’s feeds.

The Eastleigh constituency is tight (500-odd votes in it in 2005). So engaging with your followers is the digital equivalent of canvassing on the streets and knocking on people’s doors, and could mean the difference between winning and losing those key votes.

Focus on your strengths

Leo Barraclough’s Twitter feed consists of tweets such as The Tories will wreck this country and UKIP’s leader is a joke and an embarrassment.

Fair enough, that’s his opinion and if we agree, they are reasons we might note vote Tory or UKIP. But we’re on Twitter, not at the Labour conference – give us reasons to vote for you. Not why we shouldn’t vote for your rivals.

Back up your tweets with extra info

Tweets are restricted to 140 characters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t provide links to further information to back up what you’re saying.

On April 21, Maria Hutching tweeted that she was ‘off to meet local residents who are furious about the latest Lib Dem attempt to wreck a green field space’.

This tweet interested me, and I wanted some more information. So a link to an article or blog post with more details would have been useful. (I should also add that I asked her directly on Twitter for more info and didn’t hear back).

Again, providing this information could be the difference between winning and losing key votes.

Also remember that Twitter doesn’t have to consist of numerous ‘mini-blogs’. You can also use it as a feed for your website’s news section or blog to push content to a wider audience.

The personal touch

We constantly hear how voters want to be able to identify with politicians. So adding the ‘personal touch’ to tweets is a great way for the public to get to know you.

To be fair, Maria Hutchings has added a personal touch with tweets about her family life. And Chris Huhne has tweeted about his visits to local restaurants.

So why not take it a step further? You could use Twitpic to post up images of life on the campaign trail. Or integrate a location-based social networking service like Foursquare into your Twitter feed so we can see where you are on the campaign trail in real-time.

Don’t stop now

Since the last election the Liberal Democrats have been in touch with me regularly with letters and branded community magazines. But I don’t think I heard from the other parties until the election was announced.

So, once the 2010 election is over, continue to stay in touch and engage with the public through social networking as well as traditional media. And be ready to try even more ways of digital communication – who knows what social networking services we’ll be using by the time the next election comes around?