Short-form stigma

Politicians should expand their social media presence

On November 18, 2012

If this year's election showed the nation anything, it's that getting people to pay attention can get pricey, but it's worth it.

According to Lauren Ashburn, editor in chief at, Barack Obama's campaign outspent Mitt Romney's campaign 10 to 1 on digital spending. The president reportedly spent $47 million on social networking and online advertising compared to Romney's $4.7 million.

It doesn't seem important, but it is, and in later years, it's going to become even more so. All of this means they should be looking at more opportunities at every level to increase their networking presence.

The dynamics of the nation's election are changing - we're becoming digital, and our politicians know it. But that fact isn't held to equal importance. Obama had four years and one election behind him to know the leverage it would give him. In 2008, he only spent $16 million. Since then, he has (or at least his interns have) begun an active Tumblr presence, reenacted memes and jumped on board with every new platform for digital media. While the Romney campaign got a later start, it's clear it also didn't place too much importance on expanding his base in the same manner.

If politicians want to steer clear of social media, though, they need to at least be aware of how quickly it is advancing. The 2008 election was supposedly the "social media election," but Election Day 2012 became the most tweeted-about event in U.S. political history - a statistic that doesn't seem to carry much leverage considering Twitter has only been in existence for six years. But the numbers show just how big this became. The number of tweets on Election Day in 2008 represents only about six minutes worth of tweets today, according to the company. Users were tweeting 11,000 election-related posts per minute this year, and by the end of the night, the count surpassed 20 million.

Clearly, digital media has made incredible leaps and bounds in the past four years. We've seen longer Facebook status updates, the creation of Instagram and a larger presence from Tumblr and Linkedin. While one in four American adults got their election news online in 2008, 82 percent receive most of their election news online today. It's growing, and it will only continue to grow.

Social media is the present and future of advertising, and engaging in social media is the difference between two candidates whose campaigns and Super PACS constantly bombard you with emails and letters. Engaging is the key word. Politics is swerving away from the days of the audience simply being force-fed information and transforming into a transactional model of communication, offering constant and simultaneous give and take.

You want people engaged in electoral politics, and they are becoming so. A recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project shows 35 percent used online tools to try and encourage others to vote, 34 percent posted their thoughts about politics online and 38 percent used social networking to promote material related to politics or social issues.

Unsurprisingly, younger users are reportedly more likely to share their political views, participate in an online political group or encourage others to post political material than social media users aged 50 or above. And 45 percent in the 18-to-29 age group said they were lobbied online through social media.

When someone sees his or her friends or family are voting for a specific candidate, there's a higher chance he or she is going to vote for that same candidate. Within the next decade, it's only going to be more likely people engage in politics and lobby digitally.

This shouldn't be isolated to a national level - local politicians should also get on board with this, especially because with the significantly less attention their races receive, their policies have much more of an effect on citizens than the policies of our national leaders. Instead of the abundance of television advertisements people don't take seriously (Kathy Hochul's "Trick or Treat" ad, anybody?), they should instead invest in reaching out not just to the younger generation that might not realize how important their role in government is just yet, but also to that aforementioned 82 percent who receive the majority of their news online.

If candidates are worried about outreach, all they have to do is turn to their closest social network. One of the many upsides to campaigning through social media is the number of people that information will reach. It's not an unfair advantage if anyone has access to it.

Chances are you can find nearly anybody on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn or Google+ (or all of them if they're especially connected or social media obsessed). The only real challenge is getting the people who are connected to disconnect for a few minutes to go out and vote. But that is a chance politicians should be willing to take.



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