Sunday, January 31, 2010

Will Twitter Elect the Next President?

Watching the coverage of President Obama’s State of the Union address last week, I was struck by the attention given by major news stations to Tweets and Facebook posts, as well as blog comments. CNN kept a running image of the country, showing the divisions between red and blue as the social media updates came in, and providing a Twitter analysis of the speech. Even the White House jumped into the media pool, launching a free iphone app days before the speech. The app enables users to stream live events from the White House newsroom, as well as “get up-to-date information directly from the Obama Administration right to your iphone,” so users could conveniently view the speech right from their phone.

Of course, this type of strategy is to be expected from the tech-savvy Obama administration. And, as expected, the White House web site also features the first official White House blog, with frequent updates, mostly by White House staffers, but periodically by cabinet members and others in the administration. Maybe the president himself will blog someday.

The 2008 Presidential Election

All the attention given to the social media aspect of the State of the Union address was reminiscent of the 2008 election season. On November 5, 2008, an article on titled “The Vote: A Victory for Social Media, Too," referred to the 2008 election as the "first social media election," and discussed the unprecedented effect all forms of social media had on the election. According to the article, Facebook kept a running tally of users who checked a box indicating they had voted -- and the number had exceeded 4 million by around 10pm. Facebook users could also send each other virtual Obama or McCain buttons, and many wrote on friends' walls showing support for a candidate.

YouTube also came into play in a big way during the campaign season. PBS teamed up with YouTube to ask American citizens to "Video Your Vote," a campaign for people to shoot videos of their voting experience and then upload them to a special section of YouTube.

Not to be left out, Twitter provided another non-partisan voting tool, the Twitter Vote Report, a collaboration of volunteer software developers, designers and others who teamed up with blog techPresident to allow voters to share problems with their voting experience.

As reported on the techPresident blog, Nina Keim and Jessica Clark of American University's Center for Social Media compiled a report describing the project and its results:

"...Developed in less than a month, the project generated more than 12,545 submissions, marshaled more than 7,500 contributors, and involved nearly 20 highly skilled volunteers and partners."

Where Will It Take Us?

We know that the Obama campaign led the numbers in social media, in terms of friends on MySpace and Facebook, and being first out of the gate to use Twitter. The McCain campaign jumped on the bandwagon, but never managed to amass the number of online supporters. However, both camps were heavily dependent on social media by the time election day rolled around. As the use of social media continues to grow and its importance to our culture expands, future candidates will have an unprecedented opportunity to use this free avenue to reach mass numbers of people with targeted messages without dipping into their advertising budgets. Clearly, social media influenced the 2008 election -- what will be its influence on the coming elections in November for Congress -- and what will be its effect on the next presidential election? Will social media become the most important tool in a candidate's arsenal?


  1. I think that once history has had the opportunity to evaluate the 2008 elections, the verdict will clearly be that social media turned the tide in Obama's favor. Obama/Biden supporters were active on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and YouTube-to name just 5.

    After a late start, the McCain/Palin camp followed suit. The effect that these various media had was immense. Both camps became savvy in the use of the new technology fairly quickly, as demonstrated by the Joe the Plumber moment, by the hoopla surrounding the selection of both vice-presidental candidates, and by Obama's Ideavirus concept.

    Much like televised Presidential debates-which were new technology in 1960-now that social media have been used effectively in a national campaign, they will become the new baseline for future campaigns, both on the national level and in the local contests.

  2. I remember getting a text to "go vote" from the Obama camp. Even though I have no idea how my number got on their list, I admit to having felt pretty cool, thinking that I was part of the "in crowd."

    I definitely think the way the Obama campaign embraced today's technology swayed thousands of voters, particularly in the younger age groups.