For political campaigns with limited funding, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have become the cheapest – and most efficient – methods for spreading their message.
The platforms are equally important for big campaigns with millions to spend on traditional advertising like TV commercials and mailers. It’s a tool to connect with supporters daily – and in some cases, bypass the filter of the news media.
And campaigns that don’t have a consistent social media presence? They aren’t really campaigning.
Here’s a look at how three statewide campaigns in North Carolina are finding distinctive ways to step up their social media game.
Kevin Griffin, Facebook debater: Durham businessman Kevin Griffin’s U.S. Senate campaign has a staff member dedicated to communications, but he says he’s writing social media posts himself.
On his campaign Facebook page, Griffin responds directly to comments, even when someone’s expressing negative views about his candidacy.
When one man said he would “NOT” be voting for Griffin, who’s running in the Democratic primary, Griffin stayed positive: “I welcome the chance to hear more about your concerns. Whether or not we agree, I want to hear more about your concerns.”
In an interview, Griffin said he makes a point to personally reply to every comment; sometimes he’ll dictate a response to a staff member if he’s on the road.
“It really goes back to the basics of the whole campaign – having that back-and-forth conversation with the people I’m trying to represent,” he said. “Facebook makes that easier and a little more immediate as far as the fact that anybody can reach out and ask a question.”
If I don’t engage, that’s saying I don’t value the opinions of the people of North Carolina.
Kevin Griffin, U.S. Senate candidate
Such direct responses are rare in campaigns. Most candidates don’t reply to comments and leave the task of writing social media posts to campaign staffers.
It’s clear from Griffin’s Facebook page that his responses take some by surprise. “You’re the FIRST politician to answer me directly, and I appreciate it!” wrote a Facebook user identified as Jim Parks, who added that he still won’t vote for a Democrat.
Griffin said he doesn’t think candidates should ignore any online comments. “If I don’t engage, that’s saying I don’t value the opinions of the people of North Carolina,” he said.
While Griffin spends hours on Facebook, he says his campaign still spends much of its time traveling and talking with voters in person.
“With the sheer volume of what’s on Facebook and other places, a message can be lost,” he said. “That’s why we have maintained an aggressive schedule of getting out and meeting with people.”
On Saturday, for example, Griffin’s campaign calendar included forums in both Charlotte and Williamston, which is in Eastern North Carolina.
McCrory ‘making digital a priority’: With 107,000 Facebook followers, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and his re-election campaign don’t have time to answer every comment on the page.
But the governor’s staff posts frequently on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, sharing campaign talking points and personal updates. The campaign says McCrory’s video announcement that he’s seeking a second term reached more than 1.5 million people.
“The governor’s campaign is making digital a priority in a way that no other campaign in this state has before,” said Ricky Diaz, McCrory’s deputy campaign manager for communications.
Diaz says social media give a more personal view of the governor, highlighting his support for the Carolina Panthers and other personal activities.
“It lets North Carolinians get to know the governor outside of what they read in traditional media,” he said.
And when McCrory objects to how he’s portrayed in news stories, his team is quick to react on social media. The campaign recently created a second Twitter account, @Team_McCrory, which offers “rapid response, fact checks and updates,” according to its profile.
“@newsobserver is running more false & misleading stories abt @PatMcCroryNC,” the account tweeted in December.
The McCrory campaign recently launched an account on the publishing website Medium, posting a long article about the value of the state’s private school voucher program.
Diaz said Medium’s format allows for “long-form op-eds and viewpoint pieces that might not fit into 140 characters.”
The McCrory campaign has hired the Alexandria, Va., firm Targeted Victory – known for its work on Mitt Romney’s presidential bid – to assist with communications.
Rey’s video campaign diary: Spring Lake Mayor Chris Rey, another Democrat running for U.S. Senate, has one of the few campaigns to embrace an app called Periscope that allows users to broadcast live video from their phones.
Rey uses Periscope to offer intimate updates on his campaign, often filmed from the passenger seat of a car as he shuttles between events. In one of the videos, a GPS is heard giving directions in the background.
“I want folks to be able to see the grind,” Rey said in an interview. “It’s not easy, it’s tough work, but I want to you see the work that I’m putting in. ... I want to take them on my journey with us.”
I’m not trapped in a room, just dialing for dollars.
Chris Rey, U.S. Senate candidate
Rey says the videos help send a message about his campaign: He’s trying to meet voters directly rather than using heavy fundraising to mount an expensive media blitz.
“When you literally take the campaign to people, you get a better response,” he said. “I’m not trapped in a room, just dialing for dollars.”
Both Rey and Griffin have raised significantly less than their opponent in the Democratic primary, former state Rep. Deborah Ross of Raleigh.
Rey’s campaign also frequently uses Twitter and Facebook, and while he has staffers to help with communications, he said he writes about 75 percent of the posts.
“I’m really particular about it because I know that this is the closest I will get to people without having a lot of money,” he said.
Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter
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Facebook by the numbers
Here’s how many Facebook “likes” statewide candidates had gathered by last week:
Pat McCrory, Republican for governor: 106,650
Robert Brawley, Republican for governor: 1,246
Roy Cooper, Democrat for governor: 26,242
Ken Spaulding, Democrat for governor: 4,418
Greg Brannon, Republican for U.S. Senate: 100,294
Richard Burr, Republican for U.S. Senate: 31,944
Ernest Reeves, Democrat for U.S. Senate: 46
Kevin Griffin, Democrat for U.S. Senate: 302
Chris Rey, Democrat for U.S. Senate: 5,587
Deborah Ross, Democrat for U.S. Senate: 5,648