Social Media Strategy

How Does Social Media Affect Elections?

December 1, 2009

Today is a big day in Atlanta politics, and I thought it would be appropriate to revisit the topic of social media’s role in politics.  I won’t be getting into the candidates or my affiliation here, but the issue that I want to discuss is how important it is to use all the tools that are available to engage people through the channels they are already using.

VoteLast year, I wrote a post titled ‘Is This the Facebook and YouTube Election?‘ where I mentioned that Facebook and YouTube changed the dynamics of the Presidential election of 2008 in a profound manner.  Many more people were engaged in the process than ever before, and there was an outlet to connect with people in a way that we had never seen in the political process.  The Atlanta Mayoral race reminds me of that dynamic, and perhaps there is even MORE engagement this time.  I find this to be remarkable because local politics rarely gets this kind of attention.  Sure, people get fired up during a Presidential election, but the city level races are rarely in the limelight in this way.

What we’re seeing in the Atlanta race is a willingness to discuss the issues that the community is passionate about, and there has been a great deal of back and forth about the merits of the individual candidates in social channels.  Interestingly, in my conversations with friends, neighbors, etc., very few of those that I’ve spoken with have actually watched the candidates debate on TV.  There have been several televised debates, but many people are simply not tuning in.  But these same people are on Facebook constantly and are engaged in wall posts, video posts, etc. that relate to the race.  There have been several threads that I’ve participated in that have significant engagement with people that I know, and people that I’ve never met before.  Great information is being spread, and hopefully it’s helping people in their decision in the voting booth.  Many people have said they are on the fence, and I can’t think of a better way to get them off the fence than engaging them directly with information and opinions through a trusted friend network on Facebook.

There’s a lesson in this for brands.  People are engaging with each other in these spaces and for many of them it’s the primary way they engage with brands.  In this example, the political candidates are each their own brand, and it will be particularly interesting to see how the candidates use of social media factors into the results of the election.  It’s an incredibly tight race, and they are both doing what they can to get their supporters out to the polls.  There is a difference however – one has a much more robust following on Twitter and Facebook, while the other one is a relative newcomer to the scene.  There was a similar dynamic during the Presidential election last year.  I’m very interested to see if the same pattern holds this time around.

What lessons do you take from this?  Have you been a part of a political discussion through social media that would never have happened otherwise?  How do you think social media affects elections?

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