All politics is social

Social media was in its infancy during the last presidential election cycle. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made a digital declaration that she was ‘in it to win it,’ while candidate Obama famously announced his VP choice with a few taps of his thumbs. In 2008, social media was the new, bright, shiny object. In 2012, it is an essential component of any serious political campaign. Earlier this month, the Nevada Republican Party set a precedent by becoming the first state party to use Twitter as the primary means of releasing official results from its presidential caucuses.

Four years ago the presidential election cycle redefined traditional campaigning with the rapid embrace of social media. The connection caught fire with voters who were starved for something more than the usual soundbite, campaign slogan and 30-second ad. Today, as they sit on their campaign buses between stops, prepare to give a big speech or leave a town hall meeting with local voters, more and more candidates are turning to their mobile devices and using social media platforms to build a direct, personal and immediate connection with voters.

ADVERTISEMENT
Engaging voters at the nexus of mobile and social is now common practice on the campaign trail. From texting supporters to “Get out the Vote” to surprising your own aides with the news that you’re pressing on to South Carolina (as former candidate Rick Perry did via Twitter), social media has led to a classic case of disintermediation — the act of cutting out the middle man — delivering an authentic connection between candidate and constituent.

The best campaigns understand that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are not just platforms to get the message out, but invaluable real-time tools for getting messages from voters, as well. Harnessing the chatter around key issues and looping it back into the campaign as platforms and strategies is considered a valuable information tool. And, there is certainly no shortage of feedback available for leaders in this country — and around the world.
 
2011 produced a veritable cacophony of digital speech and opinion. Around the world, 103 million tweets were sent from a mobile device every day. Some 26 photos were uploaded to Instagram every second, and Facebook reported more than 425 million mobile monthly active users in December 2011. This growth shows no signs of abating, and much of it will take place over mobile devices. Now that smartphones outsell personal computers in this country, we prefer our Internet to go.

Not all of the dialogue is substantive, of course. From Herman Cain’s smoking chief of staff to the rebuttal video from Jon Huntsman’s three daughters, social media can offer a personal, behind-the-scenes view of a campaign and its candidate. Other uses are more formal. When the Obama camp recently joined the popular photo-sharing mobile application Instagram, the first pictures featured the commander in chief speaking to Iowa caucus voters via video chat.  

With almost half of Americans getting their news using mobile devices, there is a growing shift in the way information — political and otherwise — is consumed and shared. Rather than simply a 24-hour news cycle of information coming at us, social media offers a 24x7 give and take of opinions, dialogue and information.

During the Republican primary debates, the Twitter-verse exploded with real-time discussions. Elections are fought and won with strategy, resources, discipline and a message that connects with the American people. Then, on Election Day, it all gets distilled down to simple math. In 2008, there were more than 100 million Facebook users. Today, there are more than 800 million. In 2008, 12 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube every minute. Today, that number is the equivalent of 2 days. 2008 also saw 300,000 tweets daily. Today, 200 million tweets are sent every day.
 
So far, every presidential contender’s level of influence is being measured, at least in part, by their digital visibility. Campaigns are analyzing the quantity of tweets, “likes” and unique visitors, to gauge hot topics and key messages. This influential and powerful information serves as a roadmap to campaigns as they navigate social media investments to attract more votes. At the same time, political activists are using social media to rally like-minded voters, and tech-savvy campaign volunteers are immersing themselves in all things “social” to maximize engagement and recruitment. But the question remains if all those likes, retweets, hashmarks, and shares will translate into actual votes. If so, the old adage from former House Speaker Tip O’Neill — “All politics is local” — might be in need of an update for the wireless age — all politics is social.

 
Spalter, who is chairman of Mobile Future, has been founding CEO of leading technology, media and research companies including Public Insight, Snocap and Atmedica Worldwide. He also served in the Clinton administration as a director on the National Security Council.

More in Op-Ed

A friendly warning from Canada to the new Republican Congress

Read more »