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Even down-ballot campaigns get their moment in the spotlight. Whether during a public forum, a debate or even a moment of crisis, candidates can use social media to compound the reach of their message and make an appeal for donations.

It sounds easy, but capitalizing on these moments is about more than just working your Twitter handle into the conversation. Here's what to do with social media before, during and after the focus is on you.


Identify your strong supporters on social media.
It’s critical to segment your email list beforehand to sort out who uses Facebook and Twitter. The moments during and immediately after a debate will determine what stories get written or aired. The spin room isn’t just a room in the debate hall anymore. You’ll need to be able to reach out to key people via social media and email post-debate.

Build relationships with reporters on social media before you need them.
During the debate isn’t the best time for first contact. That should be done months or weeks prior — ideally at the start of the campaign. Think of your outreach to supports the same way.

If you have supporters outside your area or a live watching event doesn’t make sense, you could hold an online event in conjunction with the debate. This doesn’t have to be a big production.

Tools like CoverItLive, Ustream or Periscope can be used to broadcast an event which isn’t being carried on TV. This can be a great way to engage and update your supporters, help them build a relationship with the campaign, and get your message out.

Prep your online and offline work beforehand.
Have social media posts ready to go for during the event if they need campaign approval. Moreover, have your press release and fact-check docs, in addition to your post-debate email approved and ready to go, too. Events can be great engagement and fundraising opportunities so it’s important to be ready. The faster you can launch, the better. Since things will be very chaotic during the event, get as many of those materials locked down beforehand as possible.

If you’re planning on a great line by your candidate that night, or you know a pothole your opponent is likely to steer into, prep your memes ahead of time. You might also want to have some prefab meme graphics handy so you could build something on the fly.

If you have the budget, consider doing some paid social media advertising during and after the debate. Promoted tweets and promoted Facebook posts can help you find a larger audience while the campaign is on voters’ minds. If you get materials approved beforehand, you could promote content as the event goes on.

Make sure your website is equipped to handle a flood of traffic.
It’s bound to get some after a major event, especially if your candidate remembers to say the name of the campaign’s website. Now, the site should be mobile friendly and action steps should be clear. Be sure to fix any bandwidth issues before a major debate or TV appearance.


Put out regular information on Twitter and Facebook.
Using the appropriate hashtags is critical in order to be a part of the larger conversation. Keep an eye out on which hashtags are trending in your area. Feel free to fact check your opponent immediately online as he or she says something or leaves something out. Remember to have all that info prepped beforehand so it’s ready to go. Make sure your research book is in a usable format so you can pull up supporting info as soon as you need it.

While you’re paying attention to the online chatter, this could also be a good time to recruit more supporters. If you see people tweeting about the debate or event, feel free to follow them on Twitter – or even retweet them. If people are commenting on your Facebook posts, engage them. If you have an active petition on an issue and the issue comes up in the debate, it could be a good time to repost with the appropriate hashtags.


Email your social media all-star team.
Send them talking points, debrief messages and fact checks on your opponent. Moreover, ask them to share this content. If there’s something actionable from the debate — perhaps your candidate launched a new proposal, or your opponent said something awful that needs pushback — you may want to capitalize on the momentum and launch an online petition or call to action the next day.

Don't forget to welcome the flood of new followers and supporters to your campaign. You should send an update email to your list, and more intro-level social media than you would usually. Assume that many people are coming to the campaign without a lot of background knowledge. If you want your new supporters to stick around, then it's worth trying to gently bring them up to speed.

Once that’s done, rest, recuperate and prep for the next debate.

Laura Packard is a partner at PowerThru Consulting, a Democratic digital strategy and web development firm. Sometimes she tweets out about job postings, so follow her on Twitter @lpackard