Can you mount a social media political campaign with just one million pesos?

TJ Manotoc was kind enough to invite me to an interview to talk about social media political campaigns. One of the best reactions I got were from digital media experts like Carlo Ople and Noemi Dado. The biggest gripe was the number of one million pesos to run a social media campaign. Carlo correctly raised the point of how much Facebook ads costs, or how much social customer relationship management software costs. On top of that, other expenses, and that’s not even accounting for the content. Noemi reminded me the cost she heard during the last election. All valid points of view when thinking of the campaign.

Perhaps, I wasn’t too clear— no fault of TJ when he asked me the question. As I pointed out on twitter, was thinking of entry-levels. When Apple says they are selling a new iPad, they always say, it starts “from PHP15,990” or the new iMac starts from “62,990.00”. It is a conversation starter, and the dynamics evolve as you develop the pitch and the strategy. It could be less, it could be more. And expectations change as you drill down the conversation with the client, and he or she knows what the hell is he buying into.

Now, there is a common misconception that social media is by far a separate beast from the rest of the campaign. You don’t have a separate messaging. You get a tweaked messaging targeting the specific online audience, but it doesn’t deviate as much from the messaging you relay on the ground. The candidate’s “packaging” is the same online or offline.

For all the complaint about Bam Aquino’s last name, few have mentioned his pro-Small and Medium Enterprise push for example. From his campaign’s perspective, it doesn’t disappear when you talk about him online (or offline, and vice-versa). You mention his accomplishments. You publish his platform (and they have), and it would be interesting to find out later, post-election how much traction did this get during the campaign.

Nancy Binay is doing the right thing for her campaign. Say as little as possible online. The online world isn’t her territory. It isn’t going to win her additional votes from cyberspace.

So my point is, running a social media political campaign is no different from your campaign messaging. The place where you “broadcast” changes, with the content, isn’t wildly different. A video of your candidate can be found on Youtube. Campaign posters can be published online, instead of being printed, or tweaked to be published as a Facebook ad. It is like giving a speech in Laguna, and giving the same speech in Davao, but altering it to account for local color. In that respect, “budget” varies. A social media political campaign is one holistic strategy that doesn’t diverge from the campaign. It isn’t an after thought. It isn’t Public Relations, or Messaging’s dirty little distant cousin. It is part of the family. It is part of the equation on who you target— will 18 to 24 year olds be important to your campaign? Are you targeting overseas workers? How can you reach those people? Social Media is an additional limb, and now, with increasing importance in the grand scale of sending out the message.

There are two primary sides to a social media campaign. This is the talking and the listening and these two halves form the conversation. “Conversation,” is often lost. It is one of the key things we are missing. There doesn’t seem to be much conversation happening around the candidates and the voters.

A conversation isn’t just a campaign publishing why you should vote for their guy. It isn’t just about the comments and likes, but when something pops up, when a constituent, asks a question, the candidate or the campaign gives an appropriate response.

It is disappointing to read comments on a candidate’s Facebook page that ask the question, “Ilan po na magkakapatid sila ?” (How many siblings does he have?) I am not saying the question isn’t a valid one, it is just that, really, we waste all this time preaching the power of social media, and how we can reach the candidate or how the candidate can reach us, and at the end of the day, voters don’t seem to want to ask deeper questions?

Beverly Thakur of IFES asked me a question during the e-democracy conference. “How can we get politicians to participate in the social media conversation?”

Social media isn’t of course limited to Facebook ads. It isn’t limited to listening to social media using Radian 6. Social media is also participating on Blogwatch and Rappler interviews. It is responding to criticism; or responding to a good idea by a constituent. It is a chance for candidates to show who they are, and what they can do. It is the closest thing to a town hall as we can possibly get. It is nice if citizens take advantage of this vector. It goes back to the whole idea of conversation. A conversation happens when one side talks, the other listens and when the first side is done talking, the second guy talks and the other guy listens. So ask questions. Ask questions that make sense not for the purpose of embarrassing the candidate, but to have a real deal conversation.

Going back to the question of why politicians don’t seem to like to participate in social media, or that the conversation is either simply broadcasting one side, and not an actual conversation– is because from their side, they are afraid of being bashed, and cyber-bullied. How do they not get shutdown? So it is entirely courageous of the President’s comm group like Manolo Quezon, and Abi Valte to be on twitter to answer questions, and to sometimes talk like real people.

Another social media expert– Chris Talbot remarked that maybe it is a cultural thing. That maybe from the American perspective, they are thicker skinned. People in power there are used to people being rude to them. I think he’s right. Politicians in the Philippines expect some reverence, maybe? I think being civilized, and talking with people in an actual, real conversation is the first step in getting both sides to a conversation. A jar of honey, in my humble opinion, will get you a way longer than a jar of bitterness. Put it a other way, don’t be a troll (or starstruck) when talking to politicians! Talk to them like you would a real person. Treat them as a real person. They are people too!

Social media in campaigns don’t have to be expensive. Tools, and concepts don’t always have to be there. The ads will always be there. If you’re in a pinch, when is the best time to maximize that ad run? Where else can you scrimp and run a barebones campaign? Where do the analytics begin or end? Where do you start and stop measuring impact— or should you even dare to? As a local candidate how can you benefit from social media? Do you need an entire team?

One of my friends, Edizer Aceron, is running for Vice Mayor in his little town in Bulalacao, Mindoro. I was pleasantly surprised, for example, to wake up to an album he published on his Facebook page. It was simply titled, “The Journey”.

Bulalacao is on the edge of nowhere. If you have ever been there, Bulalacao is a 45 minute trip by boat from Boracay, or a 6 hour trip from Batangas pier. Their beaches are pristine. Now, one can imagine that if this far of place has this going on for them, why shouldn’t the other politicians follow? You can imagine that in their place, WiFi and 3G aren’t as proliferate as in the city. There is little point to publishing pictures from the campaign trail. And you know what? It is entirely personal, and entirely naturally brilliant. It is a way for his friends– like myself– or his constituent to know how it is going down there. Just like a normal person does, publishing things going on in their lives. How much does this cost? I haven’t asked him why he did that. Was it instinct? Was it deliberate? An Internet connection, and a camera and instantly, you have this invaluable connection. It is brilliant social media. Am fairly certain he doesn’t care about reach or analytics, or likes, but it is a social media campaign, isn’t it? If he wanted to use his Facebook for example to solicit money to run his campaign, could he? Is that even legal? And assuming he did, and could— wouldn’t that even further the idea of a social media campaign?

It made me wonder, how powerful do you think it is to tell constituents, “I will post our picture on my Facebook page.” (I-post ko po yung picture ninyo sa Facebook ko.) How powerful do you think _that_ is?

Remember that famous Obama hugs Michelle photo during the last U.S. presidential election? Why was it so powerful? Because it conveyed victory, and images from the campaign perfectly with the simple caption, “four more years”.

How much does it cost to have someone on hand to take photos in a world where smartphones with 8 megapixel cameras and DSLRs are everywhere?

If I could give an award for best use of twitter by a politician it would be to Representative Kimi Cojuangco, and Senator Pia Cayetano. Both women are natural on twitter. See what makes them fantastic on twitter is that they are real people online. Sure they talk about policy. Sure they talk about the issues of the day. Every so often they talk about things that matter to them, or joke about things, like real people do. Senator Pia talks about for example her biking. Representative Kimi can joked about how her husband, Mark, had moved out, and is now living full time on twitter. Mark Cojuangco is also a prolific twitter user. Like I said, real people or at least as real as you can be online.

Another good example of social media use was Senator T.G. Guingona’s web series on how the Senate works. It was a nice touch. The senator’s YouTube channel is really a good example of a Senator engaging the public.

Going back to a campaign, as any professional veteran social media expert would tell you like Ros Juan and Niña Terol-Zialcita, social media isn’t just posting things on Facebook or selling ads. It is a writing job. It is a content job. It is about telling a story: a real powerful story. The audience is on Email; on Youtube; on Facebook; on Twitter. As I pointed out, it also isn’t distinct, and separate, or an after thought for a campaign. It is part of your overall campaign strategy from the beginning. The tools, the ads, the people who will run your listening post, and writing and publishing content do cost money, but in a pinch, if you know how to do it right, and you know your campaign objectives beyond, “I want to win,” then you can manage your expectations and accomplish your objectives. And often, the best practices are the ones that come naturally.

Harper Reed, The Chief Technology Officer of the Obama 2012 campaign said during his e-Democrasya presentation that they spared no expense. They hired real engineers, and developers from Google, Microsoft, Apple and others. Real pros to build their infrastructure that needed to work without downtime on Election Day. Red Tani of the Filipino Free Thinkers asked him, how do you do it for advocacies, and (presumably applicable to political campaigns) on a budget, and Harper replied, “use open source.” Money is nice to have, being scrappy and passionate is another.

More politicians and political campaigns ought to use Social Media to engage voters, correct?

When we close the chapter on the 2013 elections, we will find a lot of campaigns experimenting with social media, hoping it was the magic bullet that would make them win. We will find candidates like Nancy Binay not needing it at all because of its liability on her? Though of course, it could have been used to change the narrative back.

Yes, you can mount a social media campaign cheap. Though it is always nice to have a BMW, with all the bells and whistles. The caveat being whether or not you have money or constrained by money, you know what you are buying into; knowing the limits of that buy in.

The power of social media is our ability to get our friends to try a new restaurant because we posted a review on looloo; to tweet them to get them to watch Homeland, and Doctor Who— shows we love. We trust people we know to give advice on such things. In social and digital marketing parlance, we call it, “Influence.” In election language, we call it, “command votes”. They are the same.

Can a grandmother playing mahjong during off election season convince you to vote for former senator Ramon ‘Jun’ Magsaysay, Jr., because she believes in his platform of WiFi for every barangay; of ‘pay it forward’ education; of justice and his belief in business and economics? Can you convince your sister to vote for the pro-Small and Medium Enterprise Bam Aquino or the Pro-Reproductive Health advocate Risa Hontiveros? To convince them to look beyond Aquino’s last name, or Binay’s and instead focus on their credentials and passion?

See what I did there?

That said, is this an election entirely about a referendum on President Aquino? It seems that too is an important vector to consider during a post-mortem of the 2013 election, and how social media may or may not have made a difference in this election.

Essentially, in its purity beyond the ads, and the listening tools, social media during elections is getting you to vote for a candidate your friend says is good. That is what social media campaigns are about in its purest form. Are we doing it all wrong?

If a candidate came to you and said, I can only afford to spend 1 million pesos on social media, can you do it? Are you ready to be scrappy?

All the wizardry, the amount spent on Facebook ads and posts, the tools to listen, and CRMs, the content, and the tweets sent to and from candidates and all the bandwidth spent on livestreams goes down to one real question: can online— social media— deliver command votes, or are we not there yet?

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

  • Joe America ,

    I’d comment, but Immigration has threatened to deport foreigners who seek to influence the outcome of the election, and you know how persuasive JoeAm can be.. National security issue I suppose. Or else it is deemed that Filipinos are not endowed with the capacity to think for themselves. I’m not really sure which is the reason. But I think its okay for me to say its a nice article. Rich with things my brain would like to respond to.

    I’m quarantined I guess. ahahahaha

    • cocoy ,

      You are serious? You have my email right? Ping me privately!

      • Joe America ,

        There are two sections of COMELEC Resolution 9615 that pertain to the matter, Section 1 which allows personal opinions and blogs, and Section 4, which bans foreign influence on elections. Immigration issued a deportation warning pointing to Section 4. They did not point to Section 1 as a qualifier, also applying to foreigners. The only way I could test if Section 1 takes precedence over Section 4 would be to write my typical hard-hitting opinions and perhaps get a deportation order. It’s not worth the risk for me at this stage of life to be a legal test case. My blog on the matter:

        • GabbyBD ,

          neither of these sections will prohibit you from writing in your blog. rest easy.

          • Joe America ,

            What’s the legal foundation of your assurance? That Section 4 has no outs.

            • GabbyBD ,

              section 4 has nothing to do with writing in blogs.

              section 1 “Personal opinions, views, and preferences for candidates, contained in blogs shall not be considered acts of election campaigning or partisan political activity unless expressed by government officials in the Executive Department, the Legislative Department, the Judiciary, the Constitutional Commissions, and members of the Civil Service.”

              • Joe America ,

                I read it to say ANY kind of influence by a foreigner. Like, I list JoeAm’s senatorial candidates, and people say, “he’s got good ideas, I’ll vote the JoeAm line”, I’ve just had an influence.

                • GabbyBD ,

                  but section 1 clearly says blog are exempt. pretty clear.

                  look, you can interpret how u will. but rest assured, a blog entry of the type u already are doing is no problem.

                  • Joe America ,

                    I rest more assured if I don’t get politically involved. Immigration pointed to Section 4, not Section 1. Someone else can do the testing. I volunteer Kritz.

                    • UPnnGrd ,

                      Hah hah hah… you’re getting more and more of this spirit about being brave —> with another’s wallet or with another’s jail-time possibility;

                      (** Brings me back to image of Cindy Sheehan protesting USA war policies (Bush’s, in particular) — handcuffing herself to this gate or that gate, knowing perfectly well that her her protests were equivalent to misdemeanors and therefore merited arrest and jail.)

                      • Joe America ,

                        My two newest principles are pragmatism and discretion.

                        • UPnnGrd ,

                          Maybe you can just comment on issues of lesser concern to Pinoys-of-Pinas…. like the latest where the DIA has gone on record to echo David Albright’s assessment — North Korea has capability to build a nuclear bomb small enough to be mounted on missiles able to reach South Korea (or even Clark Air Force base).

                          • Joe America ,

                            Actually, that’s what I’m doing, and it is interesting that my current series aligns with your idea, and is on Philippine Defense. I can imagine a battery of anti-missile missiles resting comfortably outside Manila, maybe at that dead nuclear power generation plant in Bataan. Put that baby to good use. Thanks for the good idea I can incorporate in my series.