Social engagement leads to political power

By Meghan Crozier

It was during the 2008 presidental election that social media made its mark and showed us that there is a way for internet users to voice their opinion, organize their ideas and offer support. Social media outlets, including Facebook have grown so much in these past 3 years and everyone is certainly paying attention. This includes everyone from politicians to attorney marketers; social media has given the average citizen a new voice leaving the governement officials only an ear shot away.

Where does this leap forward in social media leave the typical target audience of politicians? The country saw first hand in the last election that President Obama heavily pursued the younger demographic, this generation (18 to 35 years old) is the largest group of social media users. Statistics show that the median age of viewers for TV evening news is about 63 years old, and it is safe to say that they may not be using the internet as their largest source of daily news. As the younger generation relies heavily on social media and other internet sources for all of their information, and with the structure of social media, it is unfortunate that much of the information they absorb is skewed as it’s exchanged with others. Over the internet people are itching to put their 2 cents in along with the content, making for a lean toward one side or another.

In terms of voting, social media, internet and web video mainly provides a medium for dialog between many of the swing voters and candidates. This allows the candidates to concentrate on their swing voters who are still tugging at the ropes of their choices, which is great for close elections. They can focus on swing voters without influencing the majority of voters they’ve already locked on, which is reassuring and effective. In a campaign the internet also allows for a lot of description and fine tuning as well as excessive focus on particular voters.

There remains a large risk for candidates attempting to gain an edge using social media however, due to the information overload and comprehension. Misinterpretation and misunderstanding are bound to occur, because society lives in fast forward. How often does someone watch the full video or read the whole article? All it takes is for someone to pass along something out of context or misinterpreted information from a snippet to cause confusion.

If we’re talking costs, this is the obvious benefit of an online campaign. Saving excessively compared to paying television stations to run ads. “A recent study conducted by SocialVibe found that 94% of social media users of voting age observe political content, and 39% of them share with about 130 of their friends online” (Samit, 2011). These findings are no shocker as today’s families are more likely to share interesting news articles with one-another via Facebook, email or text than they are to watch the nightly news together.

Social media will certainly play a vital role in determining the 2012 election. It will be Facebook friends, not the evening news, that will inform most of us. Candidates are left no choice and must effectively engage in the social sphere to remain competitive. Tapping into the right base of users could literally make or break a political campaign.

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