- Barack Obama’s campaign is often praised for its fresh use of social media to energize voters 2008. In the four years since the last presidential election, not only has social media evolved, but the parties’ attitudes towards social media have warmed as well.
What's new in social media
- President Obama’s success with social media prompted other politicians to follow suit. In this election, you would be hard-pressed to find a politician who doesn’t have at least a Facebook page and a Twitter account.
Since 2008, Twitter’s role as a news-sharing platform has increased in reach and influence, and new social media platforms have joined the mainstream of social networking.
“The platforms have grown so much,” said Ari Greenberg, vice president of Digital Strategy at MWW Group, one of the nation’s five largest public relations agencies.
- The increase in the number of platforms gives candidates more opportunities to connect with voters, especially young potential voters that are more likely to use social media.
The campaigns’ implementation of data-mining (or analyzing the habits, demographics and unique characteristic of followers and fans) to target desired online audiences has also affected the reception of political social media and advertising by potential voters.
Rory O’Connor, journalist and author of “Friends, Followers and the Future: How Social Media are Changing Politics, Threatening Big Brands, and Killing Traditional Media,” said Obama's team often uses data-mining.
“Already Obama has cleverly hired a leading figure from the commercial world, an expert in data-mining, who is using the talents he once employed with consumer information for advertisers and profit to do the same things with citizen/voter information for political fundraising and messaging,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor adds that Romney’s team is also employing their ads in “a very targeted manner” to their respective audiences.
“This is obviously a huge departure from the previous strategy of creating ‘one-size fits all’ video ads for broadcast,” O’Connor said.
Is the GOP catching up?
- Although both parties used social media as a campaign tool in 2008, the GOP didn't seem to be as successful at targeting young voters as the Obama campaign.
“In 2008, Obama was groundbreaking. Now it is just the norm. For a national campaign, you can’t win without social media,” said Joe Vandegriff, president of the Georgetown University College Democrats.
- “Democrats are more active on social media. But the conservative movement is becoming more involved. It is changing. Young conservatives are picking up on it,” said Carlos Vazquez, president of the George Washington University Young America’s Foundation.
- Not everyone believes that the Republicans are catching up to the Democrats in terms of social media, however.
“Personally, I think they are still behind. I do my best to get information from both sides and I am constantly searching for new conservative platforms,” said Shira Karsen, a sophomore at American University.Greenberg from the MWW Group agrees, saying while the GOP is using social media, they might be missing something. “They understand the need for it, but I don’t think they’ve gotten it.”
- “This will be the first true ‘social media’ national campaign in history, as both parties fully integrate and employ new media tools and technologies in a big way,” O’Connor said. “Neither side should have an advantage.”
How are first-time voters using social media?
- The presidential hopefuls are using these networks in hopes of connecting with voters, especially young and new voters. But what does the first-time voter want to get from social media?
Users can share how politically engaged and interested they are with their friends over social networks. Location-based, social networking site Foursquare introduced a special election badge during the 2010 midterm elections, awarding users a badge every time they checked in to a polling location.
- “The Foursquare badges in 2010 were the digital version of the ‘I Vote’ sticker,” Greenberg said. People could show off their political engagement over the internet and in person.
Young voters also look for the personal connection that is vital to effectively use social media in any of its functions.
Politicians have taken to crafting their social media presences in a friendly way, sharing personal moments and creating in-jokes with followers.
- Campaigns are also expanding their social media presence to candidates' wives and even their bodyguards. Mitt Romney’s “Body Man” Garrett Jackson has been tweeting from the campaign trail, giving followers a peek behind the scenes with Mitt Romney via Instagram. @DGJackson’s tweets try to paint the candidate in a personal light to contrast the "robotic" image for which media often criticizes Romney.
- Young people are looking for more engagement with the candidates in social media. Karsen, though liberal herself, enjoyed the way that Jon Huntsman used his Twitter when he was running for president earlier this year.“When he was actively using Twitter, there was a lot of engagement with his supporters,” she said.