With the introduction of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and all of our other favorite social networks, the world has changed. We’re connected to each other more than ever and news travels at lightning speed. Not only are individuals and businesses using social media to connect with friends and families, but politicians are using these sites as important tools to connect with their constituents.
According to Joe Godfrey, academic director for Web Design & Interactive Media and Audio Production at The Art Institute of California — San Diego, politicians were using social media as early as 2004. Facebook was just getting started, and Twitter wasn’t even around yet, but politicians were already starting to enhance their online presence with websites and blogs.
The 2008 presidential election was when we started to see social media as we know it today: Facebook and Twitter.
“2008 was about Facebook and YouTube, whereas 2012 is all about Twitter. Many supporters for Obama in 2008 created videos that went viral, including major celebrities in videos such as ‘Yes We Can’,” says Zach Green, CEO of 140Elect, a company which leads Twitter campaigns for the 2012 election.
MEDIA AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media has given politicians some power over the traditional media. They aren’t as dependent on the media to get their message out anymore. Social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube make it possible for them to communicate directly with their potential voters.
“While Twitter has the same power for virility, it brings a unique potential for candidates and campaigns to both influence and bypass the media,” Green says. “Romney's campaign is active in contacting reporters through Twitter, to contest anything they perceive as negative and to provide their own quotes. Obama's campaign is great at providing supporters the ability to spread its messaging directly through their Twitter network, going around traditional media.”
FROM LIKES TO VOTES
Getting a “like” on Facebook is great, but it’s the votes and the volunteers that count. How can politicians be sure that their message is getting through strong enough to convert followers into voters? How do they motivate people to step out from behind their computers and volunteer for the campaign?
“Twitter makes location more difficult, but to turn Twitter followers into active volunteers offline, location must remain the unit of action to enable local work. Organizing Twitter followers by location is essential to building teams for action offline,” Green says.
The problem is that only .5% of Twitter users have geo-location activated on their accounts. Green and his team have a solution for this.
“Instead of user-based geo-location, the answer must be content-based. We now track every mention of a senator, House representative, or governor. That allows us to build a list of every person that mentions a democratic incumbent in California, for instance.”
After the user mentions the names a few times, it is safe to assume that they are from California. After the location is determined, the appropriate state-specific account can follow them and spread information about volunteer opportunities.
Godfrey thinks that social media can be just as, and maybe more, effective than envelope stuffing and yard sign campaigns.
“In fact I think followers and ‘likes’ might be more persuasive in the end than bumper stickers and yard signs. I also think the digital media might turn some non-voters into voters - we saw that in 2008 - and that is game changing,” he says.
There are many advantages of using social media in political campaigns. However, you don’t have to search very far to find an example of a faux pas going viral on YouTube.
“The truth is that while Twitter provides the ability to delete Tweets and so on, once something is sent out there is no pulling it back in,” Green says.
He explains that when a candidate makes a mistake that goes viral, it’s not the fault of social media, it’s the fault of the candidate or campaign.
“Twitter is performance art. Even discussions between two people are done in front of a wide audience. The only form of damage control available is to avoid mistakes in the first place,” he says.
“Michelle Bachmann tried to minimize her misspeaks and it only reminded people of them. One scream pretty much ended Howard Dean's campaign,” Godfrey says. “So disasters and misspeaks will happen and if a campaign is lucky, some other news will come along and dominate the news cycle and they can move on.”
Social media gives politicians more accountability. There is a record of every single thing they say, so they better say the right thing.
Written by freelance talent for Ai InSite
Contributing writer for EDMC.