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Will Social Media Affect the 2008 Presidential Elections?

Posted At: January 1, 2008 9:52 AM | Posted By: Kelly Bond
by Erin Ireland

With all presidential candidates utilizing social media as part of their campaigns, many communicators are left wondering how this tactic will affect voter decisions and turnout.

The Democrats quickly utilized social media and seemed to have been the first to see the value of this new tactic. After a little hesitation, Republicans began to also utilize social media.

Which candidate is utilizing social media the best? According to Torod Neptune, senior vice president and U.S. public affairs practice leader of WaggenerEdstrom, the Democratic candidate Mike Gravel has been the most “aggressive and creative” with incorporating social media into his political campaign.

Does this mean Gravel will win the election? Probably not but communicators need to be conscious of how social media impacts voters and the best way to create relationships and actions through social media.

One important difference in media coverage of the primaries has been the way issues are framed. Rather than the media framing the issues, voters now use social media to tell politicians what issues they want debated. Today traditional media often reports on the social media world. The public is now the gatekeeper of information.

Interestingly enough, the public trusts traditional media more than online media, which may not give credibility to social media, except the interest seems to now be in new media.

“There is a disconnect between trust of traditional media and the number of people who are going to and utilizing the new media,” Neptune said. “How we, as communicators, connect these two dots is a question we all need to be able to answer and address if we are going to be credible, valuable and strategic advisers and counselors for our companies or clients.”

More than ever, politicians are going to have to act on promises made through social media and keep their messages consistent to gain and keep the trust of the American people.

All of the 2008 presidential candidates have promised to continue the same media savvy and openness of their campaigning in their term as president.

“This is a big commitment and I think we need to look to see if the eventual president lives up to this promise to maintain the same level of focus and commitment to using these new tools and resources,” Neptune said.

As politicians create relationships with voters through Facebook™, MySpace™, YouTube™ and other social media, they need to be genuine when sending messages to the public. As a public relations practitioner advising a political candidate, this should seem natural; however, authenticity will help ensure that new media maintains the highest standards.

Again, does this mean Gravel will win the election? Not necessarily. What we do not know and will not know until the 2008 elections, is if the utilization of media techniques will actually get voters to the polls.

The 18- to 21-year-old demographic will be the group to watch. Historically the lowest voter turnout group, this group utilizes social media the best and most often.

Politicians must continue to be creative in sustaining relationships with voters. Utilizing only Facebook™ groups and YouTube™ videos will not get young voters to the polls. According the Torod Neptune, “In-pocket mobile technology, such as cell phones, has had a dramatic impact on the percentages of people who say they voted because of a text message or viral effort.”

Text messages from political candidates on Election Day may be the push young voters need to get to the polls and finally “rock the vote.”

Email: Torod Neptune

How do you think social media is affecting the ’08 elections?

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