Today’s political campaigns are not your grandfather’s campaigns, or even your father’s campaigns. Gone are the days when people had to turn on the nightly news to find out what their favorite candidate was up to that day.
Gone are the days when Americans had to show up in person at a rally or town hall meeting to offer words of support to their candidate. Gone are the days when candidates had to rely solely on TV, radio, or newspaper ads to spread their message.
Social media has changed the world of political campaigning by allowing direct contact with the candidates. Campaigns have become busy two-way streets whereby candidates and potential voters have constant access to each other.
Using avenues such as Facebook and Twitter, candidates can communicate with their supporters any time of day. They don’t need to rely on direct mail packages every few weeks to try and build support.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this is social media gives candidates direct access to voters at any time. With social media, there is no need for the news media to serve as the middle man, filtering the candidate’s message however they want. Candidates don’t have to worry about distortion when one of their staffers is tweeting or posting messages directly to a platform where their supporters can see it immediately.
Of course, not only do candidates have unrestricted access to their supporters, but supporters have access to the candidates and campaigns as well. The average American can use Twitter to communicate with their favorite candidate directly.
The same is true of Facebook, where ordinary people can immediately comment on whatever information the campaign shares. There is no need to write a letter and send it in the snail mail anymore. We’ve come a long way.
Creating a social media strategy has become a major priority for the modern political campaign. With social media sites often getting more traffic than an official campaign website, it’s important for candidates to have a media presence on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
In 2008, President Obama was the first candidate to really harness the power and influence of Facebook.
The Obama’s campaign understood and leveraged social media similar to how the Kennedy campaign capitalized on first televised campaign debate in 1960, between then-presidential candidates John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Americans who saw the debate on television thought Kennedy had won while those who heard it on radio thought Nixon had a better performance.
Both Kennedy and Obama were able to use a new communication medium to galvanize support. In 2012, Obama took his social media campaign to the next level by joining Twitter and conducting chats on Reddit.
Social media has fundamentally changed the way Americans follow politics. According to the Pew Research Center, 66% of social media users (39% of American adults) have engaged in civic or political activities with social media. It is undeniable social media is not only important, but it is critical to the success of a political campaign.
Political campaigns create politicians creating interesting posts to try to engage followers. Candidates try to come up with memorable and simple posts that can be easily shared or retweeted. The objective is to create content that will continue to fuel interest in their candidacies and help them reach fundraising goals.
Campaigns may have learned to harness social media, but it’s not just a tool for political campaigns. Politically savvy friends and family are influencing less politically educated people using their social media.
Many people rely on the posts of their more knowledgeable friends to keep up to date on politics and current events. The political posts shared on social media are constantly influencing public opinion, and savvy political campaigns understand the power of this type of group thinking.
Social media is a good thing for democracy. Anyone can share their views on their Facebook or Twitter page and feel empowered and part of the political process. With that said, there is conflicting data on the effect of social media on voting behavior.
According to the International Weekly Journal of Science, people turned out to vote after seeing a message on Facebook. In contrast, The Washington Post noted young people in particular didn’t vote in greater numbers in the 2014 midterms, despite being active on social media.