It is long past time that we stop talking about which social networks to use for this campaign or that. When it comes to targeting audiences, what matters more than which networks people use is how they use them in combination and to what end.
We cannot simply say, "Young people are on Snapchat, so let's use Snapchat to reach them." We have to think about who our audience talks to on Facebook in contrast to who they talk to on Snapchat or Instagram. How do people use Twitter differently from how they use Facebook. If young people are chatting with friends on Snapchat, will they also read long-form journalism there?
And now, social network designers are creating platforms that define niche networks in ways beyond demographics. For example, This.cm (still in beta) bases its user experience on the quality of curated content. Everybody gets only one chance a day to share a killer or article (or your own article, if you are sharing your own content amidst others'). This network is not just about who people share with, it is about what they share and how they decide what to share.
In the wake of this diversification of social network use patterns and emerging new networks, Presidential candidates and their teams are scrambling to find the best configuration of and hottest new social platform(s) on which to wrap their campaigns. Reports indicate that Rand Paul's campaign is looking hard at using Meerkat for streaming video live during the campaign (though for my money I'd go for Periscope this cycle).
And while the New York Times is in love with Snapchat, its "game-changing" possibilities are all about how people use it, not just who uses it. Achieving a political breakthrough for the disappearing selfie chat platform hinges on getting campaign messages to its 100 million young users, not just "being on Snapchat." If Snapchatters are over in the chat channels while campaign are messaging in the long-form, long-decay channels, then the Snapchat play is no game-changer, at all.
As I've often quoted, "We used to live in a world where the producers of content chose the channels of distribution. We now live in a world where the consumer determines the channels" (Kyle Stoneman). And now, the consumer is using multiple channels on social networks to talk to different personal networks (note, I said multiple channels on EACH social network... many social networks provide users with multiple communication channels).
Campaigns need to better understand the weaving flow of communications across voting and activists constituencies. They should ask if they need to reach young voters on Snapchat to get them to talk to their friends offline? Or would Instagram be better for political campaign messages, while Snapchat would be better for social Issues?
A friend of mine once told me his client at a big Fortune 100 company was very slow responding to email. But send him a personal message via Facebook and he replies almost immediately. Aside from the fact that knowing this fact helps my friend get timely responses from his client, this is a FORTUNE 100 C-SUITER prioritizing Facebook messages over email! Whatever generation gap there was on this is clearly over (at least the generational excuses have expired).
I don't have the answers to these questions, yet. We need deeper research on how people use social networks. I always ask my friends at PewInternet.org to ask these questions in their surveys. But even if they do measure the general patterns in the polity, the particulars for any political or advocacy campaign community will vary based on the proclivities of their audiences. So for now, figure out the behavior of your own audience and adapt your strategy to that. Once the research rolls in, we will know more.
This column was drafted on my iPhone and is available at SocialMediaToday.com every other Tuesday.