We hear so much about “the power of social media.” But just how much are we influencing others when we post or tweet to those already in our audiences?
SEATTLE - You care about the future of your country. In this closely fought election and in this polarized environment, you are enthusiastically posting every persuasive bit that floats by you in the blogosphere: re-tweeting choice commentaries, linking to op-ed pieces, and “liking” on Facebook everything that lines up with your candidate choice.
You want your voice to be heard.
The question is, are you really having an influence? Or are you just preaching to the converted? Will Uncle Jim change his vote based on your Facebook likes? Or will he softly close the door and steal back to his own choir on his Facebook page? Are we influencing each other, or emoting over candidates and causes within our own, homogeneous bubbles?
Looking back at our last presidential election, one could be lead to believe that the candidate who harnesses social media the most effectively will win. In 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign harnessed the reach of social media for the first time in a presidential election and won despite the powerful campaign contributors backing John McCain. This election is happening on a rather different playing field, where social media is not as novel as it was four years ago. Polls are very close for President Obama and Governor Romney, but the statistics from Facebook cast their standings in a different light.
Obama’s Facebook page, as of this writing, shows 30,883,602 likes and 2,605,889 “talking about this.” The Romney Facebook page indicates 9,462,525 likes and 2,554,805 “talking about this.” Significant? Undoubtedly, but probably for what it says about the contrasts between the supporters of these candidates than it does about how each candidate is doing in the presidential race.
But don’t write off the power of social media just yet.
Putting aside the issues of who “likes” who and how many hash tags about certain Sesame Street characters are zipping through the Twittersphere aside, the subtle power of social media to inform those who market the candidates and how they calibrate their channels and their messages could easily be underestimated. Perhaps it should not be.
In a recent guest post on Forbes, social media consultant Stacey DeBroff writes that today’s mothers are both inveterate bloggers and consumers of social media. Unlike the “soccer moms” of an earlier time, lumped together in one demographic, today’s mothers register a range of traits and belief systems within the “mom” demographic. With 66% of women registered as voters, they comprise an “umbrella” category of voter that politicians would be wise to pursue. Social media provides one avenue.
Some discussion points in the campaign rhetoric may be universal enough to have a strong effect on this demographic. If you saw the internet traffic after Mitt Romney used the phrase “binders full of women,” you’ll have an idea of how this word choice unambiguously affected female Obama supporters.
The virality of the “Women in Binders” memessoaring through the social media space even before the latest presidential debate ended on Tuesday night shows us how one phrase can sprout legs. Within moments, images playing on Mr. Romney’s words were flitting across the screens of Obama supporters and
decorating their Faceboo
k pages. Still, it seems unlikely that this traffic had much of an impact on the Facebook pages or the votes of likely Romney supporters.
How will all of this social media action affect the 2012 election? Are we influencers - or are we cheerleaders? In a few short weeks, we’ll know.
This post was produced in partnership with UW Election Eye 2012.