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Do followers = votes?

JFK … definitely a winner

In history class we learned about the first televised presidential debates. In 1960, Americans could turn on their television sets to see Richard Nixon – a sweaty man, gripping the podium and blending into the grey background – versus John F. Kennedy – a calm, tanned, extremely handsome man. In an election where every vote counted, media power shifted public opinion.

Fast forward to 2008. President-elect Barrack Obama does the usual advertising, rallies and debates, but takes it a step further as he pioneers the social media frontier. The day after he won, Obama’s Facebook fan page had more than 2.5 millions likes (now up to more than 27 million), and it included the Obama application developed by Obama for America that allowed supporters to share inspiring Obama quotes, videos and speeches.

On Twitter, Obama told his 118,000 followers (today, he has more than 18 million) exactly where he was each step of the campaign trail, complete with links to live video streams. Obama’s feed was updated multiple times during the day in the first person – this made followers feel a strong connection with him, like Obama was their Twitter buddy.

According to Edelman Research, Obama had four times more YouTube viewers, five times as many Facebook friends, and 10 times the online staff than opponent John McCain … and November 2008, Obama was the winner, taking residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Four years have flown by and this November, Americans will be back at the voting booths to pick our next president. According to a DIGITAS survey, 61 percent of social media users say the expect candidates to have a social media presence. Almost four in 10 users say that information found on social media will help determine their voting choices as much as traditional media sources.

With Romney announcing his VP candidate last weekend, Romney/Ryan have their work cut out for them. Romney announced his running mate via Twitter, Facebook and a “VP app” even before sharing the news on TV. Less than an hour later, Ryan tweeted from his a new “PaulRyanVP” account.

Just having a lot of fans and followers on social media isn’t as important as the interactions with supporters, how many people share the candidate’s messages with their own network, and how much attention beyond social media (such as in The Wall Street Journal, CNN) those actions receive.

(Of course Facebook isn’t sitting back and just letting the election happen, it has partnered with Politico to design an algorithm to measure sentiment among those of voting age who send private status messages and comments, turning unguarded moments into fast polling data.)

Does Romney have what it takes to catch up in a race Obama started more than four years ago?

Having social media updated frequently gets the conversation going in a friendly way, which is much more appealing than just passing billboards or seeing TV ads. Obama tweets for himself – signing it bo – and also allows his campaign staff to tweet for him, which merges politics and personal touches nicely. On the other side, Ryan’s Facebook page lists his favorite movies, preferred music and favored activities. The personal touches are particularly important right now, as negative ads are shooting back and forth. It’s nice to know who the candidate it – that they’re real people.

We’ve long since been able to see the candidates duke it out in televised debates, but is the social media platform the bigger, better stage for today’s candidates? I mean, would you vote for a candidate who didn’t Tweet?

-Sarah Funderburk

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