A recent news item propagated by the opponent of one of our current US senators chastised her about being technologically challenged because she didn’t have a Twitter account. When I first read this I wondered why, in this day and age, any political candidate would fail to take advantage of this free media to get their message out to their constituents. However, upon deeper reflection, I realized that — even with mass mailings — the letters that voters receive are most often written and mailed by a representative’s staff members and not by the actual candidate. That made me wonder something. Even if the person in office appears to be up to date for the digital age, are they actually the ones conversing in the forum, or is this just another ruse to make us think that they are really on top of all that is available to them in social media? Even if it is a staff person writing or responding to messages in a social media forum on behalf of a candidate, is it a guarantee that that candidate will have an advantage over another?

How Elected Officials Should Be Using Social MediaToday, with information a finger click away, it is easy to forget that a decade ago things were a lot simpler. At that point in time, email was the main communication source on the Internet and few political candidates chose to use it to keep their constituents updated on recent events in Washington, DC. Instead, most of our elected officials depended on the following means to keep their people back home updated:

  • Local newspaper articles or interviews.
  • Local television station news coverage.
  • Local mailings.
  • The dreaded television advertisements (which continue to infiltrate our living quarters).
  • Radio spots and interviews.

In this time period, though, technological advances have proliferated to the point where today’s political candidates have a vast arsenal of social media and electronic avenues to present their causes. That means that the politicians of today can rally the troops on his or her platform by simply setting up a website or blog to share current or biased information with their supporters. Of course, the younger or more electronically experienced politicians have ventured (with varied results) onto the social media scene. The reason for the varying results appears to rest in how a politician chooses to use a particular social media forum and how effective their public relations people are. My opinion is that social media networks are just another tool that these companies use to market people for public consumption — one that can be fairly effective come election time.

But is television to be forgotten while politicians flock to social media sites?

Back in the ’60s, a political commenter 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.

Despite that, however, will television remain the primary source used by constituents for political updates?

I personally believe that the voter’s age and/or generation will determine which method they’ll choose for receiving political information. Baby Boomers, for instance, may not be as tech savvy as the younger generations are. In fact, those voters under 21 years old will most likely embrace social media and choose to receive political updates through that forum. These young folks have grown up communicating with one another via devices such as computers, tablets, and smartphones. These devices, which appear to be new tech to older Americans (some of whom are still learning to embrace email), are just a way of life to our kids and grandkids.

But as the co-founder of Twitter, Biz Stone stated:

“Did I ever think I was going to be hosting (Russian) President Medvedev in my office? No, I didn’t. Or that the President of the US would have an account and they would be tweeting each other? That wasn’t on the cards.”

The Washington, DC battle continued within the social media tribunal when Congress recently proposed two bills, resulting in their being stopped dead in their tracks by an outraged public. These bills included the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate. In an effort to stop these bills, both email and social media were used to demonstrate the public’s anger at them. I chose the old-fashioned way of contacting my US Senator to voice my dissatisfaction with both proposals; in other words, I sent her an email to which I received a generic email back, stating that she opposed both bills and was listening to the people on this matter.

Was it we, the people, that stopped the bill, or was it corporate America that put the brakes on this runaway freight train? I personally believe that it took companies like Google and Wikipedia to actually bring these bills to our attention. Without their money and their running interference, this information may never have reached the major television networks and, thus, the evening news that sent out a new battle cry to consumers to stop this madness. Thankfully, it is an election year, which means that our representatives are more sensitive to the disgruntled voices of their constituents as they resoundingly echo throughout the nation.

Politicians may find, however, that social media can have a drawback for them since anyone with a smartphone can catch a politician doing or saying something stupid and then immediately post it to YouTube or another social media website. Having an incident go viral can turn out to be a public relations nightmare from which a candidate or politician can’t recover.

One can only imagine how some politicians would have recovered if social media were active during their reign:

  • George Washington: Did he really throw a dollar across the Potomac river, chop down a cherry tree, or, since he had no children, could he possibly understand abortion rights?
  • Abraham Lincoln: Was ‘Honest Abe’ really that honest?
  • Teddy Roosevelt: Did he really ride up San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders?
  • Bill Clinton: Did he really have sex with Monica Lewinsky?

So now that I have given my ten cents’ worth, I leave it to you to decide if social media is a candidate’s friend or foe. I expect to see all of the major candidates or elected officials embrace social media to express their opinions. I also believe that social media will become yet another avenue that candidates will use in an attempt to discredit their opponents by spreading rumors and misinformation (if not outright lies) about their counterparts.

Let the games begin!

Comments welcome.

Source: The Power of Social Media in Politics | RackNine