Sunday, March 11, 2012

Social Networks and Political Campaigns

Political messages continue to reverberate in new ways. Can the social web counter the influence of money in politics and the immense power of paid political advertising? That was one of the themes of a couple of political panels I attended at SXSW Interactive, that explored the ways in which these networks can transmit, filter and change the messages of political campaigns. Campaigns are still learning how to use these tools, and aren't always comfortable with the result. For one reason, campaigns can't always control the message they want to project, once they allow it to be copied and commented on by supporters who may have somewhat different concerns. As an example, whenever President Obama tries to connect via twitter or some other on-line forum, the number one question is always about legalizing marijuana, an issue he would prefer to skirt. All the Republican campaigns have also had to adjust their messages to the concerns of their most partisan supporters (gay marriage, abortion, etc.), even though they know that right wing positions on these issues will probably cost them votes from moderates and independents.

The Obama campaign still appears to be ahead of the curve in their grasp of the power of social media. Even some Republican-leaning political professionals I heard today admitted that they are still catching up. For example, President Obama's website is well tailored for mobile devices, and can switch to Spanish language. Rick Santorum's website is not even adapted to mobile. The Obama family knows how to use sites like Pinterest, while others are shying away, which will make it more difficult for these candidates to connect with voters.

Negative ads and false claims by political campaigns are known to be effective in the short term, but also seem to have turned off a lot of potential voters. Getting them involved will prove a challenge this year. One example that might encourage some of these discouraged voters can be seen in the remarkable grassroots campaign to defeat stricter protections against internet piracy. Whatever people think about that issue, it demonstrates the power of people against powerful moneyed interests. People will kick money's ass, said Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote, if they understand how important it is to participate.

2 comments:

  1. Cool article Joe. Obama and the Dems definitely have the early advantage and savy on some of the new media.

    Interesting, because 46 milion Americans are living in poverty and this new media isn't cheap. Maybe we can expand programs to pay for everyone's cell phone and internet access so we can all tweet with Bill Maher and Axelrod.

    << President Obama tries to connect via twitter or some other on-line forum, the number one question is always about legalizing marijuana, an issue he would prefer to skirt. >>

    Oooh .. the eveil weed! Is that what you think Dems need to adjust messages to? If it is true, that is telling.

    << All the Republican campaigns have also had to adjust their messages to the concerns of their most partisan supporters ... >> (you noted gay marriage).

    I guess the President is more of a conservative on this issue. Will that cost him them votes from moderates and independents?

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