I have been following Republican Presidential Candidate Dr. Ben Carson’s Facebook Page since May 2015, and I am very interested in seeing how he quickly rose in his fan base. Well, not exactly just a fan base. These are the people who can send him to the White House. He was by no means a leading figure among the Republican group of presidential contenders when he started. Yet in a few months he harvested tremendous support on Facebook, with over 1.6 million supporters, more than Jeb Bush (209,017 likes) and Hillary Clinton (991,126 likes) combined at the time I am writing this post, an accomplishment that Carson’s team also mentioned earlier this week.
So what’s the trick?
I am an instructional designer, often talking about use of media, social media, message design and learner motivation to teachers, and here are some of the things I observed from Carson’s social media campaign that I thought educators can learn something about.
Chunk: create short, authentic videos
I am most impressed with the videos Dr. Carson created. They are very appropriate in length. Some, like the video about his response to an atheist, are only seconds long, but carry the punch line that even busy web users cannot miss. Longer speeches, when the lack of context could lead to misunderstanding and unnecessary controversy, are posted at full length. Some videos do not seem professionally done, but who cares? It is not as if they are going to be shown in AMC theaters in every town. Some videos he used seemed to have been shot in cars with him sitting in one of the seats. Then there are his “flash mob” videos that seem rather interesting to watch. In an earlier article I wrote that instructional videos do not always have to be “professionally” done, depending on their intended shelf lives (pretty short for most social media needs). Social media environments love videos that are authentic, short and memorable. His videos are well chunked, with a few or one message at a time for fast yet effective consumption. The "fun facts" videos are released this way. These are meant for people to learn about Carson and share with friends. Do people actually share? They do. Carson asked them "to share". That's another lesson learned for teachers. If you want students to do something (take a quiz, submit an assignment, read an attachment), then say it, including the verbs associated with the action you want them to take.
Sticky: Make your message sticky
I have been reading a book called Made to Stick (By Chip Heath and Dan Heath) recently and I found that Dr. Carson is a master at making his messages stick. He built a strong connection between his former career as a neurosurgeon and his campaign for presidency by using the slogan “heal, inspire, reviv
e”, which I thought is fairly "sticky" for its simplicity (three words, no more), sur
prise (a healer for president?), relevance (a country deeply divided would need revival), and credibility (his past career as a successful surgeon). Hillary Clinton has been out there for so much longer. What is the most memory message you take from her campaign?
I am not suggesting that educators should reduce lectures to three words (but that wouldn't be bad sometimes), but work on the stickiness of your instructional messages maybe?
Involvement: Don't brag about yourself, let someone else do it. In Chinese there is a proverb: “If you want to sit on a sedan chair, then allow others to carry it.”Jeb Bush in his campaign trail video seems to give a strong sense of “me”. “They call me this.” “They call me a lot of things.” It’s all about “me”. Carson, however, mobilizes the public to talk about him, his qualifications and virtues, which is a more intelligent thing to do. I found his message rather non-intrusive and not particularly smelling of a campaign, though these messages always help the campaign. In one video released probably by his colleague, a man said Carson was so poor in his youth that he didn’t have money to apply for multiple colleges, so he applied for only one, Yale, and he got in. Think of how much that says about Carson! For teachers, I think bragging about yourself is always a sign of bad taste, no matter how many credentials you have and how much you have accomplished. However, it is a totally different story if you provide space for students to post positive comments from class evaluations and showing thanks to these who contribute to these comments.
Ask for photos, and donations will come
Dr. Carson constantly ask fans and supporters to send in photos to pics@Bencar
son.com which his team then posted on Facebook. In some other campaign pages, I constantly see reques
sorts of photos about himself, he let supporters send in their photos which helped him but also helped supporters gain a few minutes of fame. Some photos do not seem to carry his name on it, but he posts them anywats for donations, which can be annoying for many fans. The interesting thing is, Carson got his donations nevertheless. I thought this a very smart strategy to involve his supporters. Instead of him posting all sorts of photos about himself, he let supporters send in their photos which helped him but also helped supporters gain a few minutes of fame. Some photos do not seem to carry his name on it, but he posts them anyway, which really endears him to his supporters.
Social media is supposed to be a fun experience. You can post media that ostensibly do not help spreading your campaign message, but they do! It’s not about efficiency of your campaign message. It is about effectiveness of reaching people.
Speaking of user-contributed content, teachers, how about you let students produce some of the instructional videos you look for? Or ask them to participate in the design of some tests or rubrics? Remember the talk of produsumers? Carson did it just like that. It's not always about you and what you bring to students. They also have backgrounds and contexts to contribute and enrich your classes!
Clarity: right content at the right time
Last but not least, no matter how much money you spend on social media strategies, and what kind of genius teams you use, if you send the wrong message and/or at the wrong time, nothing will matter much. Dr. Carson aired his opinions after the South Carolina church shooting, and the Supreme Court ruling loud and clear. I especially love what he said about the Supreme Court ruling. He showed strong disagreement with the decision, but acknowledged it is “now the law of the land” at a time when other politicians got stuck in political posturing, or were busy following where the wind blew by showing euphoria with the cheering crowd while elsewhere they had showed disagreement. Well! People do not respect you because you try to be like them. Your character and your content still matter more than anything else. And these things show!