Can social media win you an election?
MANILA, Philippines - Social media may not -- yet -- be able to guarantee victory in an election, but ignoring the power of Facebook or Twitter is a huge risk which can lead to defeat.
"Can social media win you an election? Probably not. But not using social media, not harnessing the power of social networks may lose you the election if you are not engaged with voters," said US Foreign Service Officer and social media campaigning expert Cynthia Cook.
Cook participated on Wednesday, October 24 in the 2nd Kapihan sa Embahada organized by the US Embassy in Manila to inform the Philippine public about the upcoming US Presidential Election, which will pit incumbent President Barack Obama up against Gov Mitt Romney.
Cox explained that 4 years ago, the presidential campaign won by Obama was called "the social media campaign" even if platforms such as Twitter or YouTube were nowhere near as popular as they are today.
"During that campaign, President Obama really harnessed the power of the Internet" through small donations and collecting over 16 million email addresses his team is now using to spread his push for reelection.
Obama, Cox recalled, was the first presidential candidate to announce his running mate (Joe Biden) via Twitter.
Followers vs degree of engagement
According to the latest data provided by social media networks, President Obama has 31 million likes on Facebook and 21 million followers on Twitter, much more than Gov Romney with 10 million likes and 1.5 million Twitter followers.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the incumbent is so far ahead in the game, Cox warned.
"You may have 21 million followers, but are they as engaged as the other guy's 1.5 million?," she asked.
Cox argued that Romney's followers, "though fewer, appear to be more engaged than Obama's" in a campaign that is now more than ever about engaging with the voters online.
Pros, cons of social media campaigning
In the United States, a recent Gallup poll showed that most voters do not trust traditional media as much as their friends when it comes to forming an opinion of a politician.
That's where social media is crucial for candidates, said Cox.
"Of course it makes sense for candidates to use social media, because voters get their news from their friends," she explained.
Cox listed two main advantages of social media campaigning:
- Source of information on voters - "When Gov Romney posts something, how many likes does it get, what are people saying in the comments, how can he post future information that will appeal to his followers?"
- Use of Twitter hashtags - Gov Romney is using #CantAfford4More, while President Obama's staff have come up with #Romnesia
- Show videos and photos of the campaign behind the scenes, to personalize it - Biden handing out donuts, Facebook pictures of Romney campaign volunteers
But there are also downsides:
- When news hits social media, it is expected that the other side will react almost immediately
- If there is a campaign gaffe, they spread like wildfire on social media and cannot be ignored by the affected campaign
Cox concluded that politicians should pay more attention to voters who use social media because they are the most politically active, likely to attend a political meeting or influence someone else's vote. - Rappler.com