Rob Horowitz: Social Media Becoming a Force in Politics
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Both the Obama and Romney campaigns are devoting millions of dollars to influence the conversations taking place on social media. A new survey conducted by the Pew Center for the Internet and American Life tells us why.
According to the survey, 60 percent of American adults now use a social networking site, such as Facebook or Twitter, and two out of three of these social media users have shared their own political thoughts; linked to political information; or done other kinds of political or civic activities through social media.
Nearly four in 10 social media participants have used social media to share information about politics or issues and more than one in three have encouraged people to vote With nine in 10 young adults between the ages of 18-29 using social media, conversations and information sharing conducted online is playing a particularly critical role for this age group in driving political choices including for whom to vote.
The rise of social media enables politically active people who want to reach beyond their neighborhood a way to influence a broader circle of folks. Research shows that in a world in which choices have multiplied and the average person receives thousands of marketing messages each week, paradoxically the persuasive power of old-fashioned word of mouth has actually grown. Once known as opinion leaders, "navigators", a term coined by Bush Chief Strategist Matt Dowd, -- the one-in-10 of us who tell the rest of us where to shop, what new restaurant to try and who to vote for -- are playing a larger role in our politics even at the Presidential level.
The Bush campaign was the first campaign to realize the political potential of "navigators" in the new internet era -- a political potency that has only grown with the advent of social media. In President George W. Bush’s close victory over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass) in 2004, the campaign’s systematic outreach to the opinion leaders was a central key to their impressive turnout effort. The Obama and Romney campaigns are both employing these lessons learned in their aggressive efforts to recruit folks who actively share information through social networks and are particularly influential with-in their own circles.
This stepped-up use of social media in politics is a positive development for our democracy. It provides a way for citizens without access to large amounts of money to make their voices heard and participate. It also contributes to increasing interest in government and politics. Campaigns are becoming very good at harnessing these new tools. The next important step will be to devise ways to use social media to move people beyond their partisan cubbyholes and to participate in a civil conversation with those with whom they disagree. This is an essential pre-condition of forging the kind of compromises that will be essential to solving the big challenges ahead no matter who wins in November.
Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.
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