When Scott Ewart started writing his "technology scorecards" in January of this year, his first thought was that the posts, which link to social media websites for every candidate in Howard County's burgeoning field of options, could be a good resource for voters.
He quickly discovered that the scorecards would become a resource, too, for the candidates themselves.
"There's… no one place you can go to look at all of the candidates, all of their websites, all of their Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus pages," Ewart, who runs ScottE Software, a small technology services business, said of his inspiration for the blog. "So I thought, I can be that place."
Ewart, who blogs at scottesoftware.wordpress.com, started out analyzing just one big-ticket race: the campaign for governor. Soon, however – and after a flurry of web hits – the Columbia resident started taking a closer look at the social media landscape in Howard County's state and local races.
Ewart's scorecards are a pure numbers game. He lines up candidates side by side and lists their follower counts on each social media platform – except for LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube, where perhaps these counts are less telling.
Since his first Howard County scorecards in February, he has also tracked follower growth from month to month. Seeing whose Facebook profile has taken a leap in followers and who has the most "liked" and shared links, he figures, could, "actually show some trends in some of the races, particularly some of the closet races… You can see who's engaged and who's not."
Candidates quickly took notice
Ewart, who has taken to attending candidate forums – "I figure I write about these folks; I should actually meet them and introduce myself," he says – has had conversations about his blog with several political hopefuls, including District 9B delegate candidate Tom Coale and District 1 County Council candidate Kevin Forrest Schmidt.
At a League of Women Voters forum for the District 12 delegate race on April 29, candidate Nick Stewart told Ewart that his site had convinced him to make a few tweaks.
"He said, 'Based on some of the comments, I've changed some of the things that we've been doing on social media,'" Ewart said. "I love that. I think that's really neat."
He says he hasn't gotten "any negative backlash," in part, he thinks, because his comments are not party-specific. "I try to be informational and instructive so that it doesn't seem like I'm picking on you."
Ewart's goal with the evaluations, he added, is to "[try] to give some help, really… It was, to everyone, here's how you do better."
He has a whole list of suggestions for candidates looking to improve their social media presence, which he wrote about in a four-part series on the blog.
The takeaway: The more platforms a candidate is on, the better – but it's important to tailor content to each.
"I want to see website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… so that whatever I'm on, I can follow [a candidate] on the thing that I want to follow her on," Ewart said. "I might not want to follow her on Facebook, but I might on Twitter.
"If you're on all of those things, you link them all together, you link them back to your website… it's like, that's a really good candidate. That person's legit," he added.
One thing Ewart cautions against: linking Facebook and Twitter, so that whatever is posted to one site automatically posts to the other.
"The optics of Facebook and the optics of Twitter are just different," he explains. "The focus of Twitter is hashtags; that's not the focus of Facebook. Facebook, you can write a post that's long, [on] Twitter, you've got 140 characters. And so when you write it on Facebook and it goes to Twitter, and it cuts in the middle of a sentence, it looks stupid. No one's going to click on it and no one's going to follow it."
For candidates looking to maximize their reach, Ewart recommends having a presence on six essential platforms, which he calls "the six": Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.
While maintaining a Facebook presence probably seems obvious, having a LinkedIn or Instagram account might seem less so.