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Ryan Hubbard: Politics must be social

Posted: October 3, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 3, 2012 2:00 a.m.

When Tip O’Neill, former speaker of the House, coined the now-famous phrase, “All politics is local,” he couldn’t have realized how true his words would ring just a few decades later.

Now, because of social media, everyone is local. Our personal networks of friends, family and colleagues are only a few simple clicks of the mouse away.

A handful of weeks remain until Election Day, and most social media feeds are growing with political content every day.

Social media revolutionized the way political campaigns are run. We now have access to a wealth of information across many different platforms. The presidential race of 2008 showed how powerful social media could be in determining the outcome.

Can you imagine if only eight years earlier, the Bush-Gore Florida recount of 2000 had been subject to the scrutiny of social media that is commonplace today?

People would be running to their Twitter feed to discuss butterfly ballots or hanging chads, and pictures would have been plastered all over Facebook.

Today’s reality is this: All politics are social. Social media has succeeded in providing people with the tools to stay in touch with old friends, classmates and co-workers in a way that is simple, fun and easy. People now can share a variety of editorials, news stories and their own political opinions on a number of expanding social media networks.

I recently attended a social media conference in Redondo Beach and the keynote speaker, Dan Levy, head of the Facebook business department, shared some staggering statistics with us.

Social media use now accounts for nearly 30 percent of all time spent online. It’s no wonder that political campaigns must now live and die by the social media sword.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that social media or social networking sites play only a modest role in influencing people’s political views. The study found that only 25 percent of social media users said that the sites were “very important” or “somewhat important” for discussing or debating political issues and 36 percent of them said the sites were an important factor in how they attain their political news.

However, the study failed to distinguish between those who regularly vote in elections and those who don’t. With a national voter turnout that hovers around 60 percent in a presidential election year, suddenly those results become more staggering.

By removing the respondents who don’t vote and focusing on those who do, you can see that three of five voters receive some political news via social media, and two of five regularly discuss it in their networks.

These active social media users directly influence the outcome of elections.

The study did show that the two-thirds of its respondents, who were deemed the most politically engaged, became more politically involved because of their social media use. They said it led them to engaging in political debates often, both online and off.

Candidates must remember that social media is a tool, and like any tool it occasionally needs to be sharpened. Many political organizations or candidates create a Facebook page or Twitter account and then rarely update it, or they do so without a social media plan in place.

Even worse, they might allow untrained or unprofessional people such as interns or volunteers to update it for them. It is better if politicians themselves become active social media users.

If this isn’t possible, hiring a political social media consultant is an answer. Those seeking political office or those who are elected need someone who knows when and what to post to social media in order to achieve the best result.

As a social media strategist, a question I get often is: How should a candidate use social media?

Social media platforms are flexible, and they can be used in a variety of ways. Social media can be used to reach constituents, increase political capital, or raise campaign funds.

A candidate can employ social media for any of these uses, depending on the needs of his specific campaign.

The coming generations will always understand the blogosphere, Facebook and Twitter. Social media will be as common a way to connect as the telephone used to be.

Candidates can now expect the success of their campaigns to be calculated by fans and followers, as well as in votes.

Ryan Hubbard is a long-time Santa Clarita Valley resident. He is a political consultant and owns a social media management firm.


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