Social media is among the newest tools that politicians have at their disposal, and it has quickly become one of the most important aspects of an effective political campaign. Every serious political candidate maintains a half dozen social media sites, and some devote massive amounts of time and energy maintaining their political image, using it to attract new voters, solicit donations, or to share campaign photos. As of 2011, about 8 out of 10 National Senators and Representatives have a Twitter and Facebook account, proving that an online presence is essential for competing for voters in the Internet age.
Social media has become one of the most effective ways for a political candidate to reach voters en masse. According to an article in Slate Tech Magazine, 82% of adults use social media, and 98% of young people use social media at least once a month. Very often, Mayoral and gubernatorial candidates with the most Facebook friends beat their competitors (though this could be dependent on another factor, such as the candidate’s level of name recognition).
The effects of social media were clear in the 2012 presidential election as well— President Obama had over 20 million followers on Twitter, about 14 times more than Mitt Romney, and he boasted about 31 million Facebook friends, more than triple how many Mr. Romney had.  Aside from its uses related directly to campaigning, social media has become a news outlet and a forum for political debate— An increasing number of people, especially young adults, receive political information and connect with others of similar political interests.
An effective political campaign employs a multifaceted social media strategy in order to engage voters with diverse interests and political beliefs. By using social media to discover a voter’s political principles and opinions, candidates can effectively target his or her political advertisements to specific groups of voters. Also, if a voter follows a candidate on a social media site like Facebook or Twitter, the politician’s campaign team can send a constant stream of updates in the form of short messages or images, at no or very low marginal cost. If voters would like more information about the candidate, the candidate’s campaign website is usually linked to the social media site for easy access.
Though a vital part of social media is crafting very short messages to woo voters, it is equally important to continue an authentic, personal dialogue. Voters need to feel as though they have a real connection with the candidate, who actually responds to voter questions and concern. By aggregating individual opinions and following trends or patterns via social media, a campaign team can learn about large shifts in voter opinion.
Even though a variety of digital tools exist at a candidate’s disposal, some fail to use it to its maximum potential. According to the Pew Research Center’s “How Presidential Candidates use the Web and Social Media:”
Obama's campaign has made far more use of direct digital messaging than Romney's. Across platforms, the Obama campaign published 614 posts during the two weeks examined compared with 168 for Romney. The gap was the greatest on Twitter, where the Romney campaign averaged just one tweet per day versus 29 for the Obama campaign.
Obama also offered voters opportunities to align themselves with certain groups of supporters, called “constituency groups” like African-Americans, Latinos, military families, LGBT, etc., so that he could target his political message especially specific segments of voters.
Republicans have launched a new research group called America Rising, to try to compete with the Democrats’ head start in the field of social media and rapid response. America Rising hopes to learn from the failed elections of 2012, while trying to overcome the Republican image of being out-of-touch with current political trends.
In sum, those who were late to employ social media in politics are now trying to catch up.
Maintaining a positive and politically effective social image will remain serious business in the political world. Social media and Internet trends are changing by the minute, and candidates and their staff must keep up with shifting public tastes and interests in order to remain competitive. However, the next generation of successful politicians will not be the ones with the most tweets or posts, but those who engage and connect with voters in a meaningful way.
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