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Social media has opened up new avenues for campaigns to learn about their voters. Facebook’s polling feature, which is free at the basic level, is one of those tools. It gives campaigns and advocacy groups the ability to engage directly with their voters and receive real-time feedback on a candidate’s policies and pertinent local issues.

What used to take days or weeks and cost thousands of dollars can be done in minutes or hours at a fraction of the cost. Here’s how to start polling on your Facebook page:

Step 1: Start here. You’ll be asked to give your poll a name and enter the text of the issue you want feedback on. Make sure your poll name is short, clear and relevant to the election. For instance, "Should the City Council use surplus funds to clean up the city river?"

In the text section, take the time to briefly lay out the issue in a neutral way to avoid tilting the poll in one direction or the other.

Step 2: After you fill out the fields and press "Next" you’ll be given the option of asking a question related to the issue.  

You can ask several types of questions including Multiple Choice, Yes/No, Text Box (to receive one line of input from the participant), Ranking (how strongly they feel about an issue) and Scale of 1-to-5 (to gauge preferences, if the issue has more than 2 options).

Step 3: After completing your questions, press Next and you will be given a share URL for your Facebook. You’ll also have the option of customizing the image that appears with your poll by uploading a different image (rather than the one they supply that says poll). I recommend adding the custom image.

You can also edit the way your poll presents itself by editing the text that comes through when you share it.

Step 4. There are several different ways to get your poll out to its intended audience. One way is just by adding it to your Facebook page by posting it on your page’s timeline and inviting your Facebook friends to take the poll. Another is by embedding it on your website. I would recommend doing both to maximize the reach.

That said, the most important place you’ll share the poll is on your campaign Facebook page. Once on the page, you’ll want to promote the poll to registered voters in the district you’re competing in. 

A poll would be useless if its takers are not in-district voters so make sure you upload the voter file to a Custom Facebook Audience and promote the poll to people in that segmented universe.

Another benefit of the Facebook poll is the ability to message the people (from your Facebook page) that have participated in the survey. If you have people taking the time to weigh in on a given issue, chances are they’re politically motivated and maybe a good source of contributions, volunteering and becoming an online advocate for your campaign.

Polls are underutilized on Facebook and a potentially powerful tool if used strategically. You can raise awareness about a given issue and find out where potential voters stand on it. Going forward you can target your stand on the issue to people you know are supportive and build around topics rather than just personality.

But here’s the disclaimer: These are not scientific polls and you shouldn't read too much into the information you receive. Social media conversations always attract the most ardent voices and don’t represent the broad spectrum of the community. It will, however, give you a pulse on what the activists and thought leaders are saying and thinking.

And that means it should be a part of your media mix.

Brian Ross Adams is a Los Angeles-based digital consultant to Democratic campaigns and advocacy groups.