Social Media’s Double-Edged Sword Can Cut Your Way Twice | npENGAGE

Social Media’s Double-Edged Sword Can Cut Your Way Twice

By on Dec 21, 2017


Sometimes double-edged swords cut both ways in your favor. Take for example social media engagement for political and advocacy campaigns. On one edge, pushing out your campaign message helps to advance your cause or candidacy. On the other edge, the response, be it supportive or negative, that you get to your outreach provides deeper insights into how people think about your issue(s) and/or candidate(s).

In my last column, we explored the value of analyzing what your audience is saying on social media as a crucial first step towards developing effective outreach messages. After several months analyzing tweets by registered voters and comparing them to the larger social media conversations—that include real people, organizations, campaigns, and bots—sometimes real people, or at least the segments of real people we want to engage, are not talking about our issues or candidates. And while this, itself, is a useful finding, after learning that our priorities are not on everybody’s mind, we still want to learn what they think about it.

This is where social media plays such a vital role. With it, we can prompt people to talk about our issue(s) and candidate(s). Not only can we prompt people, generally, to talk, but we can use a combination of paid and organic tactics to get the right people to talk about them.

After an initial round of unobtrusive analysis of what people are posting, we can elicit responses from people who are not yet participating in the conversation, especially people who are in our key target audiences. Such targeted outreach not only puts our message directly in front of the people we are trying to influence, but it also generates responses from them that allow us to better understand how they think and feel about our messages.

The key is to make sure that the right people see your posts so that they are more likely to reply. Additionally, you must make sure the posts contain messaging that maximizes the chances for getting replies.

Getting your posts in front of the right audiences, as always, requires using the right hashtags, tagging the right people and, as budget allows, paying to promote the post to people with the right demographics and interests. To find the best hashtags, I like using To find the best influencers, I like using Using the best hashtag(s) and tagging specific influencers—using @mentions on Twitter and @tagging on Facebook—will increase the chance that the influencer will RT, QT, share or reply to your post. This carries their validation of your message to their audience and the hashtag audience. Such validation increases the chance more people will see and reply to your message.

If you want to learn more about how people who are against you think about your issue, use their hashtags and tag their influencers. For example, generally people who believe climate change is real and humans are making it worse use the #climatechange hashtag. But climate deniers and skeptics tend to use the #globalwarming hashtag. If you want to see the pushback messaging on climate, use the #globalwarming hashtag. Finding and tagging the most proactive opposition voices to your issue will generate responses from others in the opposition.

By ensuring that you are pushing the best and most effective messaging for each target audience into that audience, you will simultaneously be raising awareness about your issue and eliciting responses that will give you valuable insight into how people think about your issue. And if you especially target audiences that you found to be silent in your initial research, you can both deliver your message to important audiences and gain some insights into how they are thinking about your issue(s) and candidate(s)—where no insight was found before.


Alan Rosenblatt, Ph.D. is a digital and social media strategist, professor & thought leader with over 25 years’ experience at the intersection of digital/social media and public affairs. Alan is SVP for Digital Strategies at turner4D and Director of Digital Research at Lake Research Partners. His work focuses on using digital and social media to better understand public opinion, drive political and policy campaigns, and educate the public on key issues of the day. His pioneering work in digital politics includes teaching the first-ever college course on digital politics in 1995; creating the first state issues online advocacy consultancy; creating the enterprise social media program at the Center for American Progress; writing a column for; teaching graduate courses on digital politics at Johns Hopkins, American and George Washington Universities; training tens of thousands of online activists around the world; and hosting The Dr. DigiPol Show. Alan is a frequent writer and speaker on the topic of digital politics, writing for the HuffingtonPost, techPresident, Roll Call, Campaigns & Elections, appearing on many TV and radio news programs, and keynoting/speaking at many conferences. Alan has a Ph.D., M.A. and B.A. in Political Science He can be found across social media @DrDigiPol.

Comments (1)

  • Harvey says:

    You just have to be ready for the backlash if you make a controversial post, of which sometimes an innocent post can easily be deemed controversial and you’ll receive a flurry of negative comments coming your direction. Social media is a powerful way to receive immediate feedback. clipsit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *