Message Discipline in the Age of Twitter

This post originally appeared on Campaigns & Elections on 5/30.

We’re at the point when not missing a media cycle is now more important than keeping a campaign or advocacy team on-message. But these hair-trigger responses can end up costing the candidate or organization more than remaining silent.

While it sounds counter-intuitive when most flaks just want to feed the beast, it really is possible to pick your shots, be patient, bridge to positive messages and spin a news cycle – even if it is only an hour long.

Here’s how:

Get everyone on the same page.
Message strategy meetings and daily or even hourly team discussion on core themes help communications and policy staff brainstorm smart solutions. Use chat, text and Google features to keep everyone apprised of changes

Avoid vanity metrics.
Don’t believe your own press clips, or tweets: Social media is about engagement and not sentiment indices or computer-generated metrics. Know your voter and audience

Anticipate the opposition.
Veteran campaign managers and policy experts try to get ahead of the cycle and anticipate what the competition will do, before they do it. Study their speeches, Twitter feeds and try to “jump the route” as they say in football.

Don’t farm out your social.
It’s dangerous to have the intern run the Twitter campaign and try to interpret real-time, 140-character communication strategy. It’s equally as dangerous to have an outside firm do it. Authorize a senior staffer to do your social and create a clear approvals process for rapid response.

Let the opposition hang themselves.
This presidential election cycle has taught us that voters are seeking authenticity and message consistency. Measure your response to a negative story. Damage control can be counterproductive when voters are smart enough to see it.

Understand the power of empathy.
Authenticity also means letting your candidates be themselves. Messages and bridging skills have to be transparent and in the true voice of the candidate or issues campaign. Ensure your surrogates have the voice of the candidate, too, and know your platform. Whether a politician or a brand, being genuine is important.

You can’t participate in every conversation.
You run the risk of discrediting yourself if you weigh in on every issue. See the above on authenticity.

Responding to on-air commentators with Twitter works.
When necessary, tweet a response to the anchor or commentator. Don’t wait until after the show airs to join the conversation.

Teach your candidate or issues advocate solid bridging techniques.
Bridging means effectively going to one of three core messages you have developed for your candidacy or policy initiative. “Stick to the knitting,” is how management consultant Tom Peters put it. It’s better to know what you can defend than wade into murky waters.