Politicians' Use Of Social Networks

Connecting to The Public in Online Networks

Social Networks are now becoming critical campaign stops for politicians and campaigns seem to be virtually spreading.[1] Politicians are joining Facebook and MySpace and are gaining popularity just as quickly as bands and comedians do.[1] As of September 2007, Hillary Clinton had more than 133,000 MySpace "friends" and Obama was around 200,000 "friends". These social networks are very efficient and inexpensive places for candidates to connect with large audiences almost instantaneously. By creating a MySpace or Facebook page, the public can view the candidate’s blogs, view their personal videos, pictures, and links to other sites that discuss issues.[2] MySpace even created a page called the Impact Channel to serve as a one-stop shop for users looking for presidential race content so users are obviously turning to the network for political learning. This Channel is basically a virtual town square with links to a collection of political Myspace pages for easier navigation.[2]

Benefits of Online Networking

  • These social networking sites are also great opportunities for campaign revenue with such a large audience reach.[1] In fact, both MySpace and Facebook have the one-click payment options that let users donate even more easily.[2]
  • MySpace also gears advertising on political pages to corresponding advocacy campaigns. For example, Hillary Clinton's page features an ad from the National Abortion Rights Action League so these ads can help to shape the image candidates hope to portray.[1]
  • On LinkedIn, politicians like, Barack Obama, have utilized the white-collar networking site to help connect their campaign goals to the aims of the business crowd. In fact, LinkedIn is a great site for performing question and answer sessions with the public. During September of 2007, Obama posed a question on the site asking "How can the next president help small business and entrepreneurs survive?" and in matter of a few hours, he received 135 responses.[1] By doing this, Obama was hoping to increase his credibility and visability among the professional community.[1] In other words, this is a great example of how politicians are taking advantage of social networking.
  • MySpace in particular was cited by 8% of the younger online election news consumers as being a source for campaign coverage but only less than 1% by those ages 30 and over. Social Networking websites are really a way to reach the younger audience. "Fully two-thirds of Americans age 18-29 say they use social networking sites, and more than a quarter in this age group (27%) say that they have gotten information about candidates and the campaign from them – including 37% among those ages 18-24[3]. Nearly one-in-ten of people under age 30 (8%) say that they have signed up as a “friend” of one of the candidates on a site."[3]

What Makes Social Networks Unique?

Not surprisingly, MySpace also can help candidates influence younger swing voters as some 86 percent of its American users are voting age.[2] According to Tom Anderson, 31, a MySpace founder, “'MySpace has a method of reaching people who are historically not interested in voting” and may not read newspapers or watch news on television.'"[2] He added, "'A MySpace profile could excite their interest in ways they are used to. In the same way they learn about their friends, they could learn about a candidate.'"[2]

1. Cox, Jeff. "The Social Networking Election." CNNMoney.com. September 12, 2007 http://money.cnn.com/2007/09/12/technology/candidates_socialnets/index.htm
2. Williams, Alex. "The Future President, on Your Friends List." The New York Times. March 18, 2007
3. The Pew Research Center. "Social Networking and Online Videos Take Off: Internet's Broader Role in Campaign 2008." The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. January 11, 2008
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