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Will Social Media Users Determine Who Wins the White House?

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The United States presidential election is heating up, and both incumbent Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are turning to the Internet to garner support for their campaigns. But are they using social media correctly?

And will it matter?

Check out this video from Voice of America:

In the last presidential election, Obama had a huge presence online, and his following has grown since then. Romney has a smaller following when you compare his Twitter followers and Facebook page likes to Obama’s, but that is in part due to the fact that he didn’t spend the last several years as president.

This isn’t just about tweeting and sending out Facebook status updates, though. Both campaigns are attempting to get a little more personal with their social media followers. For example, the Democratic National Convention hosted a tweetup for Obama supporters and the Republican National Convention confirmed that they have several staff members dedicated to reaching out to online voters, according to France 24.

That in-person touch is what will really make the difference, not Facebook likes.

In 2008, I was an Obama supporter (I am currently undecided for the upcoming election). I followed him on social media, but I wasn’t a strong fan and I certainly never considered giving money to the campaign until I attended a rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania, near where I was living at the time. Seeing him speak in person and getting to shake his hand were what really convinced me to vote for him.

Yes, he blew John McCain (the Republican nominee in 2008) out of the water with his online presence, but he only won because he was able to connect with those followers in an emotionally-charged way.

Social media is great, but neither candidate has the time to send individual replies to followers. These accounts are run by staff members. If you look at either candidates’ streams, you’ll see little interaction. They’re just methods for broadcasting, like political ads on television. It’s not a two-way conversation.

That’s not to say social media has no impact on political elections, but it’s important to realize the power of personal communication. In my opinion, that’s why Obama won in 2008. It wasn’t that he had more fans online; it was that he got out there and spoke to those fans about issues they really cared about. Social media is just a tool for finding people who could potentially vote for you, not a method for convincing them to cast their ballot in your favor. In 2008, the candidate who was best able to connect with the people outside of social media was the candidate who won.

Ultimately, I think that’s who will win in this upcoming election as well – whoever can better connect with people about their needs, not whoever gets more retweets.

Do you think social media matters in the presidential race?


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  • blogworld

    Dan Rather might say no, but Al Gore would probably say yes. Pretty sure President Obama would give new media at least some credit for his election.

  • JTDabbagian

    Wanted to bring an interesting fact into this that I thought was relevent: The Republican National Convention garnered 4 million tweets for the entire convention. The DNC has 3 million tweets…on its first day. 
     
    Would you say it’s a sign that democrats are more connected in social media than republicans? 

    • WordsDoneWrite

       @JTDabbagian That’s an interesting stat, JT!

    • allison_boyer

       @JTDabbagian Perhaps…but it would also be interesting to see the negative/positive breakdown of those tweets. Maybe Republicans are more interested in tweeting about the DNC than Democrats were in tweeting about the RNC. It also depends who is tweeting. If there are celebrities (mainstream or online) tweeting in bigger numbers about one convention or another, it’s going to create ripples of fans who retweet whatever they say, even if they aren’t connected to one political party or another. And social media is international too, of course. Maybe people in other countries care and tweet about our president and his wife more than about the presidential challenger and his wife.
       
      In short, I think there are a lot of interesting ways to look at those statistics! The biggest question of all: does it matter? I’d love to see a poll that asks “Did your interactions on Twitter or Facebook help you decide who to vote for?” I’d also like to see the question “Did your interactions on Twitter of Facebook cause you to change your vote?” Where’s Tom Webster with some stats when you need them? :-p

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