The winners and losers aren’t yet known in the 2012 presidential election, but that hasn’t stopped one publication from taking an in-depth look at the candidates’ use of Facebook and many other social media platforms. CQ Researcher recently published a thorough report on this topic, “Social Media and Politics: Do Facebook and Twitter Influence Voters?”
What’s notable about the paper, available online only to subscribers, is the broad swath of social media channels that are taken into consideration — from major platforms like Facebook to more targeted and niche sites, such as Reddit, as well as email and online advertising.
There are also a variety of social media directors and thought leaders cited from all political persuasions, from Zac Moffatt of the Mitt Romney for president campaign to Vincent Harris, who directed social media for Newt Gingrich. Katie Harbath, who directs GOP outreach for Facebook, and Joe Trippi, who pioneered the use of the Internet in Howard Dean’s bid for president, are also featured.
These are some of the key findings with respect to Facebook use:
- According to Harris, an indication of Facebook’s and social media’s growing role in politics is the fact that it has become an integral component of a campaign, not just “relegated to the corner.”
- The public’s growing participation on Facebook and other channels makes each platform attractive to politicians, who can use the platforms to raise money, mobilize supporters, and spread their message directly, bypassing the filter of media.
- Each social channel offers its own political tools, according to George Washington political scientist Michael Cornfield: “The advantage goes to people who can use all of them.”
- However, Facebook is the “800-pound gorilla,” says Harris, due to its large number of users and friend-to-friend networks.
The paper also explores the issues of privacy and Facebook’s role in causing political polarization. Digital strategist Steve Deutsch of Jones Public Affairs believes that social media worsens polarization that already exists in American politics, citing data from Pew Research Center and comScore:
People follow people they agree with. On Facebook, you’re seeing news put up by friends who are reinforcing your views.
The report also explores how the presidential candidates are courting likes on Facebook. As we’ve noted, Moffat is determined not to cede the social media ground to President Barack Obama.
Instead of using page likes to determine social success, Moffatt says he is more focused on engagement and talking about metrics.
In addition to the microtargeting features that Facebook provides, the Republican campaign also says it uses Facebook to test messages and get instant feedback that can be used to tweak ads.
Readers: Do you think either Republicans or Democrats have a Facebook advantage?
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