Attention Politicians: 'Keep your Eyes on Social Media'

There has been a sea change in the way election campaigns were carried out in the US prior to 2008 and the way political campaigns are being planned in the social networking era. Since the year 1952, presidential candidates have been using the medium of television ads to reach to a wider audience in the US. One of the very first campaigns was that of Dwight Eisenhower, whose campaign ad was run during popular television program ‘I Love Lucy’. Roger Ailes, the campaign consultant for Richard Nixon had once stated in 1968 “Television is no gimmick, and nobody will ever be elected to major office again without presenting themselves well on it.”

In the current era, it seems social media have become an obligatory marketing tool, which more and more politicians in the Senate are adopting to, in order to  increase their political mileage. The networked population across the globe has shot up from a few million to a few billion. Particularly in the US, the number of proactive social media savvy people is growing at a staggering rate. It’s no wonder that in this coming presidential election, social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Youtube will be extensively utilized by Republican as well as Democratic candidates.

A recent study undertaken by PEW suggests that the younger generation may be getting pulled into politics through social networking sites. One need to look at the political impact social media, predominantly Facebook and Twitter has created on the global political map. The Ukrainian Orange Revolution, the recent Iran elections or the political uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, all these events have been shaped to a great extent by mobilizing social media sites to harness the voice of the people.

During the 2008 presidential election, Facebook played an instrumental role in dispensing the messages of presidential hopefuls. Hence it can be assumed that Twitter and Facebook will play a significant role in the upcoming elections. The old mode of communication is now obsolete, making way for a communication landscape which is participatory, denser and more complex in nature intrinsically. Social media is a forum which not only satisfies the aforementioned criteria, it also augments the ability of like minded groups to take collective action against an oppressive regime.

The presidential candidates are already diving right in to the social media sites. President Obama has unofficially kicked off his presidential campaign by taking part in a webcast with none other than Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in the Facebook headquarters of Palo Alto, California. Therefore, President Barack Obama has started off his 2012 campaign on the right track.  President Obama has also launched a Youtube campaign named ‘It Begins With Us’ which has received an overwhelming response.  Already, the video has received over 400,000 hits in four days. Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty is also catching up by incorporating a revolutionary application called Pawlenty aAction, which connects his website to Facebook.

If Obama has launched his online campaign, other presidential candidates are also following suit.  Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has recently announced his 2012 presidential race through Twitter and Youtube. In fact, Romney has garnered over 350,000 followers in his Twitter account.  A few months back, Romney highlighted the lopsided financial policies of President Barack Obama through his post on @mittromney. It read “@barackobama I look forward to hearing details on your jobs plan, as are 14m unemployed.”  So, the Twitter wars for 2012 presidential elections have already begun!

Senator John McCain, who once said that he doesn’t use emails during his Presidential campaign of 2008, has now conceded that the power of the internet, especially social media, cannot be ignored. He now has a popular Facebook page and a Twitter page which is exceedingly popular. He even said once that his tweets will have more impact than a conventional news release.

Just as social media can elevate one’s political image; it can shatter one’s political career. In the case of former Republican Senator George Allen, his presidential dreams were permanently erased because one of his racial slurs was caught on camera, which rapidly went viral on the internet. He had remarked to an Indian American “This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt. Macaca or whatever his name is. He’s with my opponent, he’s following us around everywhere”. This video squashed his presidential ambitions and also irreparably damaged his re-election campaign.

The first presidential campaign which integrated social media was perhaps the experimental website of John McCain for accepting political donations in 2000. It’s been more than a decade now and social media is now all encompassing, which can make or break a political career in an instant. Twitter, Youtube and Facebook are replacing traditional media such as newspapers, television and radio. People are now questioning whether the internet is an indispensable part of modern day democracy. From the political upheavals in Egypt and Iran, it’s evident that social media can transform a political set up by empowering the people. It’s therefore a given that in these presidential elections, social media will be the centre of attraction for all presidential candidates.  This time around, big brother in the avatar of social media will truly be watching the veracity of each and every statement of the 2012 presidential hopefuls.

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