Campaign staffers have a lot to worry about. In addition to the in-real-life works it takes to get their candidate elected or reelected, they have to worry about blog posts on the candidate’s website, status updates on Facebook, and tweets on Twitter. Now, they have to worry about pins on Pinterest too.
Relatively early adopter Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) recently joined visual sharing platform Pinterest, according to a post on his campaign site.
“Our campaign is on the cutting edge of today’s social media, using new tools to show Montanans exactly who Jon Tester is—a Montana farmer who brings Montana values to the U.S. Senate,” said Tester’s campaign spokesman Aaron Murphy in a statement on the site.
But if you’re looking for the Senator on Pinterest, you’ll probably come across another account under his name first. The account registered under the “JonTester” URL is a parody account of the Montana politician, according to its description. “Biggest recipient of lobbyist cash,” reads the description, which explains that posts are by American Crossroads, an organization that backs Republicans. “Supported by radical environmentalists. Working hard to bring Washington, DC to Montana.”
On the parody account’s page, you’ll find things like the President Barack Obama’s campaign logo and the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac logos under “Brands I Love,” while the “Bringing D.C. to Montana” (a play off his campaign slogan, “Making the Senate look a little more like Montana,” no doubt) board is filled with images that evoke the luxurious lifestyle D.C. politicians supposedly enjoy, such as restaurants where lobbyists can pay thousands of dollars to dine with the Senator. The account has been active for at least nine weeks.
American Crossroads is targeting other Democrats who are running for Senate in 2012 too. In addition to Tester, American Crossroads is targeting Reps. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Shelley Berkley (Nev.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Massachusetts candidate Elizabeth Warren, Nebraska candidate Bob Kerrey, North Dakota candidate Heidi Heitkamp, and Virginia candidate Tim Kaine. All of these accounts have been active for nine weeks, according to their activity pages. (Calls to American Crossroads as well as the Tester, McCaskill, and Baldwin campaigns were not returned by press time.)
Political blogger and strategist Melissa Clouthier explained that parody accounts work well on Pinterest because, like Tumblr, they appeal to the audience that is seeking easy-to-consume visuals, and the demographic tends to be younger. “Humor works with both of these groups.”
And when the parodies are done well, they can be very damaging, Clouthier said, citing a Pinterest account that parodies First Lady Michelle Obama as an example. Using simple pictures of the First Lady’s expensive wardrobe or lavish vacations, the person behind the account can easily communicate a negative message about Michelle. “It’s very very damaging,” Clouthier said. “They don’t have to read a single word.”
Of those candidates being parodied, only Baldwin and McCaskill have Pinterest accounts that predate the parody accounts run by American Crossroads. Baldwin’s actual account – which includes photos from the campaign trail and images highlighting “Some of the Best” of Wisconsin – has been active for at least 10 weeks. McCaskill’s account – featuring an “All Things Missouri” board as well as images of her family and the recipes she enjoys – has been active for at least 11 weeks.
For the five others, they might want to consider getting involved on the platform, or at least keeping an eye on what is being said about them. “People have been slow to get on Pinterest,” Clouthier said, explaining that many politicians lost their user names and URLs to “name-squatters” who are using the accounts against the candidates. But even if a candidate or campaign has lost out on the Pinterest account name, Clouthier continued, it’s still important to be monitoring the conversation. “The worst thing is being blindsided because you don’t know what’s being said.”
When candidates do decide to get involved on Pinterest, Clouthier has a minimum standard for activity. “As far as Pinterest goes,” she said, “I think every candidate should own their name at the very least, and have at least three boards.”
Although American Crossroads beat Tester to the Pinterest punch by about seven weeks, he’s present on the platform now. So far, Tester’s account has shared pictures from the campaign, photos from “The Farm,” photos of his family, photos from his travels across Montana, infographics, quotes from and about him, and pictures that embody “Montana Values” (which seem similar to pictures from “The Farm”).
Other Members already on the pinboard bandwagon include Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), and Trent Franks (Ariz.). To some extent, they all use the platform differently.
There are those that post more personal visuals, like Blackburn, who has a board dedicated to what’s “On My Kitchen Table,” which includes recipes that the Congresswoman has made, along with notes about how she makes them. (For anyone who’s curious, it seems like she cooks stuffed tomatoes, cornbread, and chicken barbecue sandwiches.)
Some Congressional pinners focus on policies. For all you wonks out there, McMorris Rodgers – who also has a super helpful board of Members of Congress on Pinterest – has a board where she collects charts and graphs. She has 17 so far, including one showcasing “Obamacare’s Bewildering Complexity” and a few on Obama’s energy policies.
Then there are those that aren’t afraid to get right into the sometimes-controversial political stuff. Pro-lifer Franks has a 18-pin board dedicated to “The Sanctity of Life,” where he has images of sonograms and phrases like “All little children are blessings.” He has a separate board dedicated to the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (or, PRENDA). That board’s 22 pins include images and languages about “the war against unborn women.”
According to Clouthier, getting personal is the best way to go on a platform focused on visuals and with a heavy female population. “They should be sharing who they are,” she explained. For instance, she suggested that candidates post recipes of what they and their spouses like to cook or photos about their hobbies.
What about the people who focus on pinning political material, like Franks? Clouthier said that strategy will be effective to engage the people who already agree with the candidate, but it is unlikely to start a conversation with others. “It’ll appeal to the people that it will appeal to, but it isn’t likely to win anyone else over.”
For Clouthier, the ideal ratio of messages that are “helpful,” as she put it, to messages about the candidate is four to one. “I really recommend that everyone have at least four pins, or tweets, that are helpful to the reader for every one that is helpful to the pinner, or tweeter.” In other tweets, for every one pin promoting the candidate, there should be four directing viewers elsewhere, whether that’s a recipe blog, travel site, etc.
Julie Germany, vice president of digital strategy at public affairs firm DCI Group, explained that developing an identity on Pinterest is more complicated than simply repurposing written campaign content. ” Most campaigns ‘get by’ on social media by posting and reposting approve campaign content, like links to press releases, official responses, and campaign pictures,” she said in an email. “This process doesn’t necessarily translate well on Pinterest, where the currency of engaging relies on posting highly creative content and curating the highly creative content of others. It requires experimenting with your message in a visual way, not a verbal way.”
And that experimenting takes time and practice to get it right. “Campaigns should start by making sure members of their digital team have spent time on Pinterest, understand how people engage on it, and have the ability to translate this different type of engagement to the political process,” Germany advised. “This requires an ability to let go a little bit and have a slight sense of humor.”
Do you follow any candidates on Pinterest? Know any politicians who are doing it well? Let us know in the comments section.
[Image via Pinterest]