The Internet, and more specifically Social media, has radically changed the way most people interact, and politics in all of its expressions is probably the area of human social activity most affected by this digital revolution. No candidate would attempt to deny today the importance the role of Social Media has in any successful political campaign, something that is particularly crucial when it comes to gauging popular support. By now every respected public relations officer is fully aware that posting at blogs and interacting at social sites provide an invaluable dimension to the promotion of a candidate’s cause.
Back in the 60’s a political commentator once said: “Show me a modern political candidate who doesn’t understand television, and I’ll show you a loser.” Replace “television” with “Social Media” and fast-forward to the beginning of the 21st century and the same saying applies, only truer. The 2008 US Election, during which both Democrats and Republicans used a wide arsenal of different of Social Media strategies in order to broadcast their political messages to an increasingly bigger Internet audience, was probably the best example of the until then underrated power of Social Media.
No one could have predicted just a few years back that a website like Twitter would attain such a level of significance in the political arena. Not even Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, who on the day they were celebrating its fifth anniversary admitted that he had never dreamed of reaching such heights.
“did I ever think I was going to be hosting (Russian) President Medvedev in my office? No, I didn’t.” he said. “Or that the President of the US would have an account and they would be tweeting each other. That wasn’t on the cards.”
However, this development makes perfect sense, after all politics is all about reaching out to people, delivering a message and interacting with potential voters as much as possible, at least until election day. And what better way of doing all that than using Social Media sites that most of those voters are using anyway, and that can be configured to send instant updates to millions of followers in an almost effortless manner, with an infrastructure cost of next to nothing?. True, candidates must be prepared to use computer hardware and software, but it’s the kind of technology that is likely to be already on their hands, such as laptops, iPhones, etc.
The rise of all these technical advancements will necessarily bring in the demise of many a media strategist who refuses to adapt, as their jobs are being folded into a bigger campaign strategy that demands their involvement in Social Media broadcasts. Social Media will eliminate the need for the services of old-style media strategists any longer, in the same way is happening in the private sector where many marketing professionals have been made redundant.
As more and more senators, congresspeople and political candidates become Internet-savvy, many of the tasks related to self-promotion and public relations will be undertaken by themselves, with the help of just an Internet-capable gadget, a personal website with blogging capabilities and some accounts in a few strategic Social Media spots.
This is not to say that every political candidate will be now able to run their own on-line campaign unaided. There’s much more to it than just typing a few sentences on your cellphone, Take a look for example at some of the qualifications required to work as President Obama’s Social Networks Manager:
- Excellent writing and editing skills with strong attention to detail; your writing is strong, sharp, and personable
- Strong organizing and campaigning instincts; you can craft messages that move people to act, and you know what actions will achieve the right impact at the right time
- Strong familiarity with social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc.
- Ready to work hard; this isn’t a 9-5 sort of job
- Ability to work under deadline pressure
- Ability to manage multiple complex projects
- Passionate about engaging millions of Americans in advancing President Obama’s agenda and changing the country
To put things into perspective consider this: According to a recent study from the E-Voter Institute, 80% of U.S. citizens who consider themselves to be occasionally or very active in politics are members of a social network, and 70 percent of them did vote on the past US Elections that saw Obama become the President.
Social Media is also helping in a decisive, although not so democratic way, to change the heads of government of several other countries around the world, as we have witnessed recently across several nations in North Africa, where anti-Government groups have used blogs and specially Social Media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, as their most effective weapons against their dictatorial regimes.
And after seeing all these developments, does anyone still harbour any doubts about the power of Social Media in politics and direct democracy? Or that it is bound to increase exponentially over the next few years? U.S. Republican State Rep. Justin Amash certainly does not.
“I first began posting every vote from the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives in June 2009 — six months after taking office,” said in an e-mail interview with Mashable. “It was really a spontaneous undertaking. I figured, why not post my votes, too, with some explanations? … I instantly received comments from dozens of people who wanted me to know how much they appreciated what I was doing. It became clear to me that posting my votes in real-time on Facebook could revolutionize the process of legislating.”
“I wasn’t considering a run for Congress or any other seat when I began posting my votes, but Facebook has turned into a fantastic campaigning tool,” said Amash. “Above all, it has helped me to gain credibility with voters. When I say that I’m a principled, consistent conservative, people know that it’s true. They can see it, and they can tell from our discussions that I’m actually reading the bills.”
“The best way to garner votes and support is by maintaining transparency and communication with voters,” added Amash. “Most elected officials haven’t figured that out yet.”
It turns out that Mr. Amash, in spite of becoming the target of all kinds of vicious attacks from opposition candidates, who are perhaps a little bit jealous of his attained celebrity, is not only doing quite alright in his own constituency, but is now also aiming at higher political grounds.
Which goes to show once again that what was said back in the 60’s about the consequences of not understanding the power of new media sounds today truer than ever. Adapted to modern times it would probably read something along the lines of “Show me a political candidate who understands Social Media, and I’ll show you a winner. Show me one who doesn’t and I’ll show you a loser.”