Social media and political campaigns are a natural fit. The political establishment seems to be taking to social media and social networking at a more rapid pace than it did other technologies in the early days of the web.
Campaign websites started at the presidential level back in 1996 and eventually worked their way down to congressional races. Even by the early 2000s, local political candidates were generally not that web-savvy. It wasn’t until the last few years that campaign websites were considered a necessary .
Social networks have been around for a while now, and do not require much in the way of technical skills to use. By the end of 2008, social networking had overtaken email in worldwide reach. This is part of the reason why politicians are taking up social media at a much faster pace than they first embraced websites – many current candidates have been using social networking sites for a few years now.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that politicians always use these tools properly. From politicians Tweeting body parts to candidates delivering racial slurs appearing on YouTube, knowing how to use something and using it properly are entirely two different things.
Social media in political campaigns is becoming more sophisticated, even at a local level. They know more about online reputation management, and they actively use social networking sites. Many candidates have Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts – and use them quite effectively! (Though I don’t think anyone has used the MySpace button in at least two years now.) Candidates are also embracing video and photo sharing as a way to reach constituents and voters.
Traditional media has jumped on the social media bandwagon. They have promoted a number of ‘trendy’ events, such as the recent Obama Twitter Town Hall event or the CNN/YouTube presidential debates a few years ago.
The most effective campaigns are those that have abandoned the traditional media relations style of one-way announcements or press release communications. Today, engaging voters and actively seeking feedback is what builds campaign support and helps carry the message. As the web expands beyond desktop computers, look for the use of SMS and texting to really take off.
Not all is well with the latest trends, though. The social web has a dark side. Fake user accounts and webturfing tactics can cause false information to spread rapidly, potentially causing campaigns lot of damage. To what extent fake user profiles, phony microsites and forum trolls actually have on public opinion is up for debate.
Either way, the story of social media and politics has only begun – and you can expect plenty of twists and new trends in the next few years. 2012 is going to be big!
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