Social Media and the 2012 Election

September 27th, 2011 by Search Influence Alumni

Facebook And Presidential Election Power

As the 2012 presidential hopefuls cultivate their public personas through careful manipulation of social media outlets, it’s easy to forget that before the 2008 presidential election, social media had never been used on such a scale.

Politicians had relied on old school phone banks and direct mailing campaigns for decades to mobilize their troops and direct voters to the polls on election day, but the power of the Internet had yet to be fully leveraged in a political campaign.

What was groundbreaking in 2008 has become the standard for the 2012 presidential election, and politicians of all stripes are turning to the power of social networking sites to reach out to potential voters.

Political Engagement Meets Social Engagement

It all starts with a numbers game. How many times have you voted for president in your lifetime? How many times have you checked your inbox today? How about your curbside mailbox?

If you are under 30, chances are you have cancelled and restarted your Netflix account more often than you have played a direct role in electing the most powerful politician in the world. You probably also have the Internet in your pocket or purse right now, just a few swipes and taps away from an email or a political tweet that could change your weekend plans from watching Arrested Development reruns to attending a political rally.

Just as the 1993 Motor Voter bill was intended to give the young, the poor, the marginalized, and the otherwise politically disenfranchised a quick and easy way to register to vote, Obama leveraged the instant connectivity and infinite scalability of social media to energize his voting base through the free, easily accessible, and already tremendously popular medium of social media. And don’t think his competition didn’t notice.

Social Media Comes of Age as a Political Tool

Mobilizing the Internet generation has proven difficult, if not impossible, for many politicians that haven’t fully embraced the latest ways we communicate. And since energizing your core population of voters is the name of the game in modern American politics, it’s easy to see why every politician is turning to social media.

While Sara Palin may have enjoyed berating the “community activist” ways of her one-time opponent back in 2008, by the end of the election cycle she had become one of the most vocal politicians on one of the largest active communities on the internet: Facebook.  And while she relied on her Facebook page as the main means of communication between her camp and the media, Palin has gone to great lengths and hired a team of “social media secret police” to control what ends up on her profile.

While deleting comments made on your wall may be seen as either a necessity or black hat manipulation, it serves to underscore the importance of social media in American politics today. Now every major candidate for the 2012 election has a Twitter feed, Facebook page, and YouTube channel.

So don’t be surprised if your mailbox remains empty as your Twitter feed and Gmail fill up as the election nears. Just as FDR proved the power of radio and JFK leveraged television to get into the White House – each game changing new technology forever altering the way the American public interacts with elected officials – President Obama ushered in the era of social media as a political tool. For better or worse.