Twitter is a social messaging tool that presents great opportunities for political candidates to create branding, exposure and word-of-mouth advertising. In recent years, Twitter has become a favorite tool for political social media marketing. It’s a tool that’s easy to set up and easy to use. Not only that, it’s a social media tool that helps candidates save time, money and effort in communicating to the voter base.

Through Twitter, users can ‘follow’ others and others can follow them. It allows users to post status updates, or ‘tweets’, that are limited to 140 characters. These updates are communicated to followers, who can read, respond or even share the tweets with others.

Here are some tips for political candidates who are just starting out on Twitter.

1) Claim @YourCampaign. Even if you don’t plan to use Twitter right away, be sure you claim your name or campaign name as your Twitter handle, even if you don’t intend to start using Twitter immediately. If you put it off, there’s a risk that your name could be taken by someone else, similar to domain name squatting. Some candidates choose to use their existing personal account when they run for office. If you already have a Twitter account, you could use that one or create a brand new handle for your campaign. The advantage to using a variant of you name (@JoeSmith) rather than a year (@JoeSmith2011) or a position (@Smith4Mayor) is that the account won’t become outdated after an election.

2) Modify your account settings and look. Add your information and website link to the account settings. Brand your profile design by customizing the color settings and background. Use your campaign colors and logo to create a consistent look with your campaign website or any other online presence you control.

3) Update your Twitter account regularly. Even though your campaign may not have many resources for social media, keeping a campaign Twitter account up-to-date should not take much time. How often you post is less important than posting regularly, no matter what the schedule may be. Maintain momentum by posting on a daily or weekly schedule. Anything less than weekly, and you may start to lose followers.

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4) Post relevant material. Candidates don’t have to just post updates on what they are doing or thinking. Look at how other prominent politicians use Twitter for style and content ideas. News articles, campaign press releases, endorsements, website updates, blog posts and event alerts are all good material to keep followers up to date. Try tweet-enhancing tools such as Twtapps or Twitpic. Use hashtags, retweets and shortened links to give variety to your posts. Be authentic in your tone and invite feedback.

5) Build your following. In the beginning you will use your personal contacts as your initial followers. Once you are up and running, Twitter will provide recommendations of others to follow. If you do this, some of these people will follow you back. This will help expose you to others who may be interested in following your campaign. Tools like Twitter Lists and Twibes can help you find niche users. You can also use Twitter to connect one-on-one with supporters. It’s a great way to address immediate topics and concerns and really engage with others. Use it as a listening tool to learn more about voter moods, issue ideas and the latest news.

6) Make your Twitter account part of your larger online presence. Twitter is only one method of online communication. Your website, blog, Facebook and other social accounts should be kept up to date as well. Because Twitter is designed for ‘small bites’ of information, you can update your status far more frequently than you would on Facebook without ticking off your followers.

For more information on getting started, visit the Twitter Basics page. Follow our updates @OnlineCandidate.

Good luck and good tweeting!

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