Based on what I’ve seen so far on YouTube, the 2013 special election in Massachusetts for US Senator ain’t that “special.” When we looked at the Democratic primary at the end of April, the Ed Markey channel
The featured video on the Ed Markey channel is repurposed content: “Ed Markey for MA | TV Ad: Clear Differences.”
The Gabriel Gomez channel doesn’t have a featured video, but it also contains repurposed content like “Gomez TV Ad: Something New.”
By comparison, the 2010 United States Senate special election in Massachusetts was pretty “special.” When little-known Republican State Senator Scott Brown upset the Democratic nominee, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, his YouTube channel had 950 subscribers and 774,314 total upload views, while hers had 116 subscribers and 102,389 total upload views.
With less than a month to go, both the Markey and the Gomez campaigns are currently on track to do as badly on YouTube in 2013 as the Coakley campaign did back in 2010.
Now, the special election in Massachusetts for US Senator will be held on June 25, 2013. So it’s probably too late to provide either the Markey or the Gomez campaigns with any constructive criticism to help them turn things around.
But there will be more than a dozen hot Senatorial campaigns in 2014 and scores of heated Congressional campaigns next year where using YouTube to engage voters will be crucial. And it’s not too early for candidates and their campaign managers across the country to learn the answer to the question, “Why should we use YouTube?”
Why Use YouTube?
According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, some 66% of registered voters who use the internet – 55% of all registered voters – went online during the 2012 election season to watch videos related to the election campaign or political issues. By comparison, 45% of wired Americans watched videos online related to politics or the election back in 2008.
And the audience for online political videos has also grown substantially since the most recent midterm election—31% of adult internet users watched online political videos in the months leading up to the 2010 elections, compared with 19% of such users in 2006.
So, you don’t need a tracking poll to discover that there will be more YouTube voters in 2014 than you can shake a stick at.
The next thing that political campaigns need to learn is: “How do we use YouTube to engage voters?”
What Works Best on YouTube?
For starters, YouTube helps strengthen your online presence, increases credibility, creates promotional opportunities, and establishes two-way communications with your voters. You’ll receive instant feedback, comments and opinions from your viewers, and they’ll spread your messages.
- Be relevant: Keep your YouTube channel current by consistently uploading short videos. They don't all have to be professionally produced. You can video blog from your desk or upload intriguing behind-the-scenes footage from the campaign trail.
- Be informative: Help your audience understand your work by posting short videos regarding issues you care about and accomplishments you have achieved.
- Be genuine and engaging: Post passionate speeches, interesting interactions with voters and Q&As that your target demographic would want to watch.
- Build a community: Empower your voters to spread your message. Respond to comments, run Q&A sessions with Google+ Hangouts and involve popular voters in your video content. Then, promote it all through social media outlets.
Create a YouTube Channel that represents you
After you’ve signed up for YouTube, setting up a robust YouTube channel takes only a few easy steps. (Note that people can find you more easily if you use your candidate’s name for your channel’s username).
- Profile Information: Customize your channel’s Title, Description, Tags and Visibility in the 'Info and Settings' tab which will appear on your channel’s homepage.
- Branding Options: Add visual elements to give your channel a personal touch that reflects your campaign message. Also, use a display banner on your channel to link back to various parts of your campaign website or donations page.
- Featured Videos and Playlists: Choose which favorite videos or playlists you would like to automatically play when someone arrives at your channel, or simply select your most recent upload.
Understanding Your Audience: YouTube Analytics
Finally, once you’ve started uploading videos to your YouTube channel, use YouTube Analytics to find out who’s watching these videos and which videos do they engage with the most.
- Build bigger audiences: Learn more about the demographics of your audiences, learn which videos are driving the most views, and find out which websites or searches are driving traffic to your content.
- Engage more with audiences: Keep your audience coming back for more by knowing how they interact with your content.
- Raise more money: Find out which sites have embedded your video and audiences are driving the most views - and raising money - for your campaign.
- Make better videos: Make your videos the best they can be for your audience by analyzing comments, favorites and video shares.
Now, if all that seems like more than you can manage, you can always hope that your opponent’s YouTube channel ain’t that special, either. Who knows, you might get lucky for another election cycle.
But, if you don’t get lucky, then you’ll probably have a lot of time on your hands after the next election. If that happens, then I recommend that you read a book on YouTube marketing or take in a Video Marketing Summit.
(Disclosure: I've written such a book and I'm speaking at such an event.)
So, I might be a little biased. But, you never know when the next special election will be held. And when it is, you will want to know how to use YouTube to engage voters.