The increasing impact of social media on the political landscape

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I am not going to write formally about my views on politics in general but with Americans voting in Barack Obama for what is being hailed as a historic and landmark event in global politics, i feel i need to mention a few things and ask one of two questions.

It has been widely recognised that one of the key support tools Obama used during his campaign were the new and social media platforms that are available. These tools were simply not as widely supported before so their reach did not generate the same effect this time round. What is interesting about all of this, is i believe that politics and elections across the globe will never be the same again.  That for me is a good thing, because living in the UK i don’t think i have ever felt part of the US Elections as i have done this time round, due to the social networks that i belong too and the different means in which the media has been presented and shared across the world, for some reason, i felt i also wanted to vote, that is very powerful considering i am over 3000 miles away.

Jeremiah Owyang posted “Snapshot of Presidential Candidate Social Networking Stats” on the 3rd November which showed the following stats

Facebook

Obama: 2,379,102 supporters

McCain: 620,359 supporters

Obama has 380% more supporters than McCain

YouTube

Obama: 1792 videos uploaded since Nov 2006, Subscribers: 114,559 (uploads about 4 a day), Channel Views: 18,413,110

McCain: 329 videos uploaded since Feb 2007 (uploads about 2 a day), Subscribers: 28,419, Channel Views: 2,032,993

Obama has 403% more subscribers than McCain

Obama has 905% more viewers than McCain

Twitter

Obama: @barackobama has 112,474 followers

McCain: @JohnMcCain (is it real?) 4,603 followers

Obama has 240 times more followers in Twitter than McCain

But if you look today (5th November) there is already an incredible increase in followers and supported for Obama. The main questions i have though is will these media tools still be used as pro-actively now that he has been elected?

The thought occurred to me, as i am sure it has with many people recently, can this be replicated in the UK for our general elections, or even local elections?  well i doubt it, whilst we (general public) seem to be fed more and more information by the media about the personalities and celebrity of current MP’s, it doesn’t quite seem the same to me, we don’t really vote for individuals, although “the leader” does play a part. Tony Blair being a great example of this. But the reality is we still after all is said and done vote for a “party” and a “view”.

Chris Reed posted on this very subject and highlights 4 examples of how it could be utilised by UK politicians  – he writes:

1) Motivating the supporter base. Preaching to the converted remains important. They’re the ones who help get the votes out on the day

2) Fundraising. We haven’t seen the levels of individual donations that the US elections rely on, but given recent ship-based discussions I predict that the parties will have to tap more voters (i.e. not just party members) than ever before in the next election

3) Policy development and argument. The internet is basically a pub. It’s where people talk, and clever people listen. Sometimes it’s an early warning system. Sometimes it’s an echo-chamber. But it provides unrivalled access to what people are actually thinking. Political parties of all shades should take note, and tweak their policies accordingly

4) The personalisation of politics. Rather perversely – being friended by a politician can sometimes be akin to being “followed” by a celebrity on twitter (@stephenfry anyone?) All politicians are looking for that “personal” touch. Using social media wisely can help to make individual supporters feel special, and, when used appropriately, can also help answer critics’ questions in a sincere and honest way.

In relation to the impact of social media on the US Election, it is hard to demonstrate exactly what impact is has had, but if you understand how social media and social networks are used then it can start to demonstrate the potential for increased communications and dialogue with people. A recent news release in Science Daily highlights research that Dr. Paul Haridakis, associate professor of Communication Studies at Kent State University is doing where he states “Many people, will watch videos and use traditional media like TV to acquire political information about the candidates, but they also are going to the Internet and using social networking sites to see who people they know support. The information gleaned from their social networks may be the information they find most credible and persuasive”  This basic level of peer to peer confirmation was validated in our recent consultation with young people, where they said social networks are places they meet and hang out with their friends. We are in a society where consumer empowerment is becoming increasingly more accessible and this will only get more pervasive as time goes on.

The impact of your friends views and the fact that by there nature social media tools are global it does raise some interesting questions about external influence from peers around the world on an individuals choice Dahna M. Chandler’s blog – Getting Social Media Savvy recently posted Social Media and the U.S. Presidential Election: What if the World Could Vote for US President?, This website shows an amazing result in favour of Obama:

Barack Obama        87.3% (758,041 votes)
John McCain           12.7% (110,103 votes)

So why such interest in the US Election? Is it because we all do really care who is in charge of one of the most powerful countries in the world, or is it because the tools we now use on a daily basis, which connect us to the lives of people who actually do need to make a choice and that in itself inspires our interest. Or is it something bigger, something more social.

The US Election has done a great things for social media and social media has done great things for the US Election, but has it changed the world, have we all started to realise more and more that we are truly one community connected by our interests and that our geography is no longer a barrier to networking. Has it also made big business and future political leaders sit up and take notice of the power of consumer/citizen engagement. Martin Bowling guest posted back in October on searchenginepeople How The US Election Is Changing Social Media, Online Rep Management & The World where he tsalks about 3 keys things that have occurred.

  1. The partisanship/overtly political statements that people are so willing to put out there without regard to online reputation management issues
  2. The effect of partisan/overtly political comments on the relationships that people have worked hard to form online and finally
  3. The transformation of twitter from a simple conversation tool to a full blown memetracker

If you want to see how much social media “stuff” is out there just for the election then Jarrett Martineau has posted Social Media Mania and the US Election: the Best Links & Resources

I am still left with the question, “will it all continue?” after reading all the websites i have read in the last few days about the impact, it would be a shame to loose the momentum that it has now gained from this event.

Finally, we do seem to be entering a period of change, lets hold on and ride the wave.

2 thoughts on “The increasing impact of social media on the political landscape

  1. Martin Howitt

    timely post Carl! I followed the US Election last night online in preference to watching it on TV: I got far more of what I wanted than I would have done watching the (admittedly colossal) Dimbleby et al – because I got the analysis I wanted from the bbc/CNN websites and – most important – the US Election twitter feed which was compelling to say the least, and you got a real sense of what Americans were thinking. To paraphrase one tweet, you can put a fork in the mainstream media and turn it over – it’s done. :)

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