As this past year has proven social media has served to seamlessly capture the spirit of public opinion, regardless of where in the world strong sentiments exist. The same holds true in the field of politics. On the occasion of President’s day, one wonders how politicians of the past would have viewed this influx of new media?One can only imagine the frenzied tweeting that would have followed the victory at Yorktown, or perhaps chopped cherry tree FB status updates from Mr. Washington!
Politicians of today have extended their campaigns onto the web realizing that a large segment of the populace requires their officials to be web-friendly. The political community has recognized the far-reaching power of the buffet of tools available to them on the web. Live chats, Facebook fan pages, interactive Twitter accounts, YouTube campaigns, and websites such as Votizen are bridging the gap between politicians and their voters.
Facebook users are more politically engaged
A study by Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that Facebook and LinkedIn users are far more likely to be politically engaged than the average social network user. The results found that Facebook users are two and a half times more likely to attend a political rally than the average American. Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah, is a perfect example of a politician who has used the Facebook platform to engage. His top supporters program has assisted in gathering him in excess of 30,000 fans. Supporters earn points by engaging, posting, liking, commenting, and sharing campaign news and updates across the social platform. The top 100 are listed, and each month the top 25 supporters are rewarded with exclusive campaign perks and goodies.
Michelle Bachmann took another route, when she won the Republican
straw poll in Iowa in part by zeroing in on the Facebook pages of potential supporters who lived nearby. Facebookers who had identified themselves as Tea Party supporters or Christian rock fans, or who had posted messages in favor of tax cuts or against abortion, found an ad from Bachmann on their profile page during the run up to the elections, requesting their support. After using Facebook and Twitter in recent months primarily to broadcast their messages and raise money, the Republican presidential candidates are increasingly turning to social media sites and other online tools to mobilize voters.
While some candidates are still trying to get their heads around social media — such as Rick Perry, who has been known to block people he doesn’t like from following him on Twitter — Bachmann and other well-funded candidates, including Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, are putting Facebook at the core of their campaign strategies, and to great effect too. The way in which social media platforms bridge the gap between voter and rep are aplenty- several interactive, engaging initiatives such as contests, reward programs, opinion polls have successfully brought politicians closer to their votaries.
Votizen: The Citizens’ initiative
Votizen is an online network of real voters who have expressed their devotion to being politically engaged citizens and build an online community. A free offering, Votizen allows its members — Votizens as they are called — to claim a voter profile, learn about pertinent issues and elections, and take collective action with other like-minded committed voters through social media.
Votizen is an independent company and is not affiliated to any political party, candidate, or special interest group. As their mission states, their aim is to build a connected electorate where real voters establish and build on direct relationships with those who seek and hold elected office. The homepage sees three options presented to users or Votizens: claim, endorse, or inform. The first allows you to view your voting profile, history, and record. The endorse option allows you to campaign for your personal favorite candidates, while the final option allows you to share and learn about election-related issues, giving you options to express your views via Facebook and Twitter as well.
Forums like these have validated the fact that voters in themselves are perhaps the best orchestrators of such prolonged efforts to engage with their representatives online. Several other websites such as the official portal of the U.S. government and Vote USA are also available for voters to fully update themselves about information regarding elections. Some of these new initiatives have stemmed from Washington itself.
YouTube: From viral vids to political debates
Gone are the days when YouTube’s singular claim to fame was that recent viral video featuring some form of feline or embarrassing news bloopers. YouTube has truly reinforced the “You” in its title over the past few years. Politicians are increasingly viewing the platform as an all-important component of their campaigns. The expanded use of YouTube by various campaigns over the years displays the value in using the site’s “geo-targeting technology.”
YouTube has time and again proven a cost-effective method to reach specific voters instead of having to spend valuable campaign dollars on expensive ad buys in entire city or statewide media markets. Many commentators believe that Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 set the standard for voter engagement online. Whether it was his fiery call for change or simply him shooting a three-pointer at an army base in Kuwait, the attention garnered by the Democrats online saw them miles ahead of their Republican counterparts come polling time.
It would be unfair to claim that YouTube was the single biggest factor that led to Obama’s presidential victory, however, it would not be a mistake to identify the platform as a key ingredient in a smooth, successful campaign. Barack Obama, introduced to us as a super-achieving enigma, a superstar if you will, was successfully brought down to earth (with the rest of us), thanks in a large part due to the role played by YouTube. This achievement has seen a host of other politicos also employ the services of the ‘tube’, as well as live debates and chats being initiated.
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About Rudra Sen
An alumnus of the University of Sussex, Rudra is fascinated by history, culture and technology. He’s known to abruptly act like a hipster in the most unlikely of situations. On wwwireframe, he writes about how technology has and is impacting our lives. In his words, “Good stuff.”