Since the last presidential election, social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter have played a bigger and bigger part in the way political campaigns are run, and the way in which various candidates are presented to the public. Moreover, Americans today are offered a new and immediate way in which they might interact with political officeholders.
Additionally, these new avenues offer both accessibility and accountability of elected officials to voters. Conversely, campaign pros are now able to statistically measure audience demographics in order to target them with messages calibrated to reach millions according to age, gender, region, issues and other specific profiles. With little cost, candidates can burnish their image instantaneously with large numbers of voters based on these analytics.
Facebook and Twitter are making inroads on the political dialogue in several ways, both for candidates and their constituents. Here are five of them:
- The Voice of the People – Although lobbyists still represent powerful monied special interests in Washington, the combined strength of the many through today’s social media provide them with their own form of leverage. Like-minded citizens now can be heard as their opinions are multiplied, refined and amplified online—which then are picked up and broadcast by media. This leverage can shape the national debate, as politicians often change strategies in response.
- Wasted on the Young? – Social media channels are overwhelmingly populated by younger people, demographically speaking. Those drawn to politics online tend to follow issues, become energized, and eventually end up as voters. This has changed voting patterns considerably, from previous times when older citizens made up the largest percentage of people showing up at the polls. President Barack Obama took great advantage of this shift in media strategy in his two election bids.
- Money Bombs – Social media, along with campaign websites, are often used to raise funds for the campaign, especially when money is needed quickly within a 24-hour timeframe. These solicitations are sometimes treated as “referenda” tied to specific or policies that are of major importance to contributors. Facebook and Twitter can broadcast these appeals widely and overnight. Bernie Sanders is currently achieving success raising large amounts of cash using this approach, with average contributions amounting to around $26.
- No Placement Charges – Advertising expenses fall into two categories: production costs and media placement expenses. With social media, ads can often be uploaded to these sites at no cost, without having to pay TV and radio media placement fees. In addition to being available with the click of a mouse, TV networks often download them for broadcast as they cover the campaigns on their news divisions.
- Catching a Virus – Certain political messages can “go viral”—if they are particularly memorable—by people taking advantage of the “Like,” “Share,” and “Retweet” functions of Facebook and Twitter. Once a candidate’s message goes viral, traditional news media often rebroadcast this on their evening newscasts—killing two birds with a single stone.