Three social media lessons from someone who’s seen inside a US presidential campaign

During digital strategist Rahaf Harfoush’s first trip to Australia, she did some media appearances and discussed her experience as a full-time volunteer for the digital strategy team on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

In the following days, the media reported her thoughts with references to her as “an Obama adviser”.

“I was so clear about my role, and I just remember staring at it and thinking: ‘How is this happening?!’” she tells SmartCompany.

“Ever since that experience, I’ve always been very much aware of what is being said,” Harfoush says.

The experience highlights that while the internet can be a difficult place to protect your brand from detractors, it can also be hard to correct embellishments and untruths that happen by accident.

In Melbourne this week for the World Marketing and Sales Forum, Harfoush spoke about the need to separate enthusiasm for technology with the actual strategic value that it can bring to marketing and outcomes. With plenty of experience in using social media strategy to drive people’s actions, here’s three of her top tips for getting the most out of your time spent online.

1. Start with the heart – and an old school plan

Too often businesses tend to skip steps when planning their online outreach, often because they’re impatient to get started with shiny new platforms. Stepping back to write out a hard-copy strategic plan can save a lot of time later, says Harfoush.

“Be very, very clear about what it is exactly you want to achieve,” she says.

“The rate of innovation is so fast that we get distracted by the technology instead. That’s why I like the focus on ‘heart centric technology’ – that every tech should meet a human need.”

2. Pick the platforms that will build community

In her own work and research, Harfoush has her own choices to make about getting the best bang for buck via social media platforms. She says the best approach has been working towards building a community.

“The most important thing for me is to share my ideas,” she says. “I use Twitter a lot, because I like to engage a lot, and I also use Medium and my own website. Honestly, more than that I just don’t have the time.”

Harfoush’s involvement in Obama’s campaign has affected her own approach to engaging with readers, because in retrospect the approach is a good case study in using social media to actually drive voter actions, she says. Deciding what action you want customers or clients to take from your engagement online can lead to strong results.

“Off the top of my head, the [current] political campaigns have been quite great at strategy,” she says.

“I think Hillary [Clinton] has built a cross-platform campaign.”

3. Do a digital audit

The mix-ups over Harfoush’s involvement in US politics – she does not work at the White House, as some have reported, and is not a government adviser – have driven home for her the need for digital audits, which is something all small businesses should be conducting regularly, she says.

“Through no ill intent, people can be misinformed,” she says.

In a blog post on her experience, Harfoush encourages all digital strategists to dig deep into exactly what is being said about your brand and whether it’s accurate.

This approach goes beyond positive or negative sentiment about your brand online, because it’s important that audiences see you as truthful.

“It’s also important to note that you need to manage ALL the information that is being written about your brand, whether it is good, bad or just inaccurate. A flattering post with a few semantic twists can cause as much trouble as someone slamming your product,” she writes.

The key lesson? Reach out to people for corrections if something is factually off, and “Google yourself. Frequently”, she says.

This article was first published by SmartCompany.

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