So What?

30 10 2009

Over the past several weeks, we have explored many different facets of the U.S. political system that have taken the leap into social media and made an online presence for themselves; government agencies, political candidates, established leaders and more. But what difference does it make?

As professionals in the communications industry and even simply as American citizens, it is important for us to acknowledge the changing tone of political journalism. Steven Davy’s post on MediaShift discusses this shift to online reporting and political discussion. So the question is, will the implementation of new online media prove advantageous to our political system or harmful? To answer this we must break down the system into the different groups being considered: the government and the public.

The rising use of social media offers politicians and the government as a whole an opportunity to put a human face on a previously unapproachable entity. I would say this is beneficial for the public to have more of a hand in politics and more awareness to the candidates they are selecting for office, but mutually beneficial for politicians because for the first time they are receiving instant feedback. Public opinion polls have never been easier to come by!

In addition, the low cost of social media is changing the way campaigns operate and opening up the idea of running for office to a whole new group of people, offering a wider range of politicians for the public to chose from. If Americans want change in Washington, it appears a different type of politician is the way.

However, opinions on the impact of new media on politics do vary. Capitol Watch reported on a Pew study that suggests that with the advantages that social media presents to politics come many drawbacks for both the government and the public. Never before have political leaders been so exposed to the public and their personal lives sacrificed at such a level. The constant coverage of politics that I’ve previously discussed impacts the government in regard to both national security issues and crisis communication.

In addition, the public discussion of politics online offers readers and critics a level of ambiguity that sometimes proves damaging. The Pew study I mentioned expresses concern over the idea that only those with extreme views take the time to post opinions on forums and repeated exposure to this may alter public opinion.

It’s difficult to discern exactly what new media’s impact on politics will be, but experts can agree that it is already shifting the scene and journalists, politicians, and especially the American public must acknowledge and react to.

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Virtual Town Hall Meetings Deliver for Candidates

30 10 2009

With election day just around the corner, another interesting campaign race comes to a close; a race which has only propelled the use of new media and emphasized its importance in reaching constituents and winning votes. We’ve seen an impressive show of politicians on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites as well as taking new approaches on traditional campaign tactics. One example of this is the use of online town hall meetings to speak to and hear from constituents.

President Obama received attention for holding online town hall meetings last March in a continuous attempt at keeping alive his powerful grasp of new media that he displayed during the presidential election. The meeting features an address but most importantly an extensive question and answer session.

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Mark Milan reported for the Los Angeles Times blog a few weeks ago about California gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom’s use of teleconferences and online meetings to discuss his policies with supporters and critics. It is an interesting approach because viewers are able to come and go at ease and the topics are often different from those that would be discussed in traditional press conferences or meetings, such as the large amount of question Newsom fielded on his policies concerning the decriminalization of marijuana. These online meetings also differ from traditional ones in the type of participant they attract; among the politically savvy activists you would expect to find at a press conference or townhall meeting, online conferences appeal to apathetic and displeased citizens as well.

Despite the low viewer rates these online meetings have had, Mike Sachoff of WebProNews published a post just days ago discussing the beneficial impact that they have on campaigns and politicians. Sachoff reported compelling statistics suggesting that the simple ability to interact with a candidate and get questions answered actually increases the chance that the participant will vote for the candidate by 56%, proving that moving the political discussion and the campaign race online is not only helpful but essential in modern politics.





WHAT Transparency Looks Like in Social Media

27 10 2009

It seems one of the words we all heard over and over during the last presidential election was “transparancy,” but it is a difficult term for an administration to bring to tangible fruition. But the Obama administration has been praised for taking one step in the right direction when it recently announced that the official White House website has switched to Drupal technology; a free, open-source, collaborative software package for web design and maintenance. Until now, Drupal has remained relatively small, most known for its use on the site The Onion. If you aren’t familiar with Drupal, this video offers a comprehensive tutorial of what it’s all about.

There are a number of reasons why this shift is a progressive (and impressive) change for politics and deserves our attention. First of all, the openness that Obama has consistently shown towards new and social media is becoming familiar to us. The previous content management system had been in place since the Bush administration took over and is simply a traditional and expensive format, and no tax-payer in today’s economy is in the position to see their dollars thrown away on fruitless government operations.

More importantly, however, Obama has repeatedly expressed his interest in making the government more transparent and interactive. As Nancy Scola discusses in her blog techPresident, drupal-logothe new website platform allows the administration increased flexibility in publishing content as well as a greatly expanded toolbelt of applications to elicit activity from the public. Desired elements such as video streaming and question-and-answer forums could be easily incorporated through Drupal, which made White House media director Macon Phillips’s decision simple when comparing potential systems.

Another reason why we should care about this shift is the increasing acceptance of collaborative technology. As I mentioned, Drupal was previously used for small business operations due to a hesitance to trust such open-source technology. This trend is bound to change now with the acceptance of the most popular kid on the playground, so to speak, who realizes that the community is stabilized and improved by those who contribute to it.





HOW Social Media is Helping Us “Dream Big”

19 10 2009

Last week, the United States Chamber of Commerce launched a multi-million dollar campaign to create 20 million new jobs in the next decade. The “Free Enterprise America” campaign comes at a time of darkness for many American people, as 7 million jobs have been lost to the recession and experts project that an additional 13 million are needed to stabilize the economy, according to Mike Allen’s recent post on Politico.

This campaign is spending millions of U.S. dollars to create an interactive platform focusing on grass-roots groups and young people. Brian Gunderson, the hired leader of the campaign, knows exactly where to reach these groups– online. This powerful advertisement has been circulating YouTube channels as well as featured on the campaign’s website home page.

The site also features numerous video clips in which individual citizens share their business experiences and invitations for the reader to post a video and share theirs, too. I’m impressed with this feature because it perfectly accommodates the need that the American public has expressed: a need for interactivity.

The impressive combination of mainstream and new social media has already attracted over 18,000 people to officially join the movement on the website. But what does that mean? A recent article by Mary Bottari on PRWatch.org expresses concern that a glitzy social media campaign is not the right step towards opening up jobs, and I think it’s a concern to throw right back to Brian Gunderson. While an improving economy will definitely require the aid of business owners and local organizations to reach out and connect with young people and others alike, many are worried that it is a job the federal government alone can accelerate. How about that for free enterprise…





WHEN Tweeting, The Early Bird Gets the Worm

8 10 2009

Just over a decade ago when the internet was termed the “new media” of the time, politicians were just beginning to scratch the surface of how to utilize technology to further their own political agendas. The first politician to really take advantage of the internet for his campaign was Bob Dole, who famously encouraged supporters to visit his new web site at the end of a debate. However, instead of sending the public to BobDole.org, he announced that it was BobDole.com.

In the same way, as politicians are just discovering the uses of new social media tools in their careers, we are witnessing some politicians missing the mark among the numerous examples of best practices.

A recent graduate of our very own School of Media Arts & Design here at JMU and a friend of mine, Renee Revetta, recently published a post on the Search Mojo blog which detailed the legal aspect of Twitter in regards to “name-squatting,” or claiming a Twitter name unrightfully. Since registering for an account is so simple and requires no identification validation, anyone can claim a username that may mislead followers. Despite Twitter’s young age, businesses and politicians alike have already encountered problems with name-squatting. One famous example occurred last August when Melissa Sue Robinson, a controversial transgender candidate for Mayor of Nampa, Idaho, discovered an imposter acting as her and posting crude and updates on her presumed official Twitter.

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In the days of Bob Dole, politicians aspiring to run for office in the future were advised to snag their desired domain URL for a future web site, even if only to avoid having to purchase it from someone down the road. But now, with social media expanding so rapidly, politicians must think about many different networking mediums including Twitter. Celeste Stewart of Associated Content recommends that future politicians sign up for Twitter IMMEDIATELY, regardless of preparedness or even campaign timing, because avoiding name-squatters is becoming such an issue. So, to all you presidential candidates preparing for a big race in 2012… I hope your Twitter is, too.





WHERE in the World are these Tweets Coming From?

6 10 2009

As my previous post discussed, a large part of Sarah Palin’s successful social media strategy is based on her ability to bypass mainstream media and connect one-on-one with the public. While this is an unusual case in the U.S., such an opportunity is exactly what aspiring political leaders in developing and middle-income countries need: to avoid government control and propaganda and reach out to the citizens. Because of this, we are seeing an increasing amount of political leaders around the world maintain an active online presence.

A popular travel blogger by the name of Mo-ha-med gathered information about political leaders globally; from Latin America, across Asia and deep into Sub-Saharan Africa. He found many examples of these leaders having established Facebook Politician fan pages, YouTube accounts, photo albums and Twitter accounts. However, it is important to point out the prevelance of alternative regional social networking sites available in many countries. Both China and India are almost invisible on Facebook but China’s Xiaonei and India’s Bigadda are both extremely popular.

The blogger also suggests that the inaccessibility of the public to the internet and social networking sites would greatly discourage leaders from becoming active online. However, Facebook recently launched a new Facebook Lite interface for developing nations and their citizens who desire a simpler, easier to load version of the popular site.

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In my personal experience backpacking through East Africa, I found that most of the African citizens I interacted with did in fact have Facebook and visited the sites regularly at local internet cafes, so I was not surprised to read about the extensive activity of African leaders (or hopefuls) online.

Using social media technology to connect with the public by other means than the traditional, untrustworthy and corrupt government is a huge step for developing countries and a testament to the rapid development occurring overseas. Politicians have so far used the technology to display a human side of the political system, previously unheard of in these parts of the world, rather than express political opinions and addressing the issues. But establishing trust and building relationships rather than collecting votes is exactly what Anthony LaFauce has theorized that politicians SHOULD be doing through social media; an alternative approach than we saw in my previous post about McDonnell and Deeds’ uses of social media with combined personality with strong political messages.





Trust is Down, Facebook is What’s Up

5 10 2009

A recent Nielsen Global Online Consumer study found that the most trusted form of advertising worldwide is the opinions and recommendations of friends and online strangers. Since the inception of Facebook and the addition of the “status” option, people have used the tool as a medium to pitch rants, support their favorite football team or to express political views. Several politicians have recognized this medium and are utilizing it to alter public opinion and ultimately win votes.

Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama’s smart use of social media was endlessly praised and discussed within the industry; however, both during the campaign period and after returning to her position as governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin has also held a noteworthy grasp on social media.

Debates over health care reform in August sparked heated Facebook messages distributed to Palin’s 850,000 Facebook friends rather than perhaps a press release sent out on the news wire. When she announced her resignment from Governor of Alaska, Palin made practically no public appearances or public statements at all, communicating with her supporters (and critics) via status updates and lengthy Facebook messages.

Andy Barr’s recent article on Politico analyzes Palin’s social media strategy and points out that such a politician is the perfect person to hold a strong online presence. Palin has many supporters but also many critics and has been famously and repeatedly criticized for her interviews and debates obtained through mainstream media. Interacting with people in an online conversation gives Palin the opportunity to better her image by becoming more personable and appealing to the public while still being able to express and position her political opinions.

In the past, avoiding the media would immediately remove a politician or celebrity from the spotlight. This is not the case any longer, however, as news organizations follow the buzz that her online actions receive and distribute her carefully contstructed opinions and posts rather than awkward, error-filled or simply downright confusing interviews.

Palin understands the importance of using social media to initiate a conversation with the public and her activity online encourages supporters to speak up in the conversation on their own Facebook pages. Generating support on Facebook via status updates is key because of the previously mentioned study about consumer trust in advertising; if all of your Facebook friends post statuses about the great things Sarah Palin is doing, public opinion and her reputation will be impacted. And perhaps that’s more than advertisers can say…