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One of the articles we read this week, “Controlling the Message in a Networked Age,” written by Daniel Kreiss and Creighton Welch suggests, “The 2008 Obama campaign notably pioneered the use of social media platforms for political organizing” (1). We all know this to be true. We know the Obama campaigns in 2008 and in 2012 continued to advance and build on years of online, targeted political advertising developed by previous Democratic campaigns. A new feature of Obama’s campaigns was the use of social media, and this form of social media targeting was “premised on voter modeling,” which assigns numerical scores to individuals on a range of 1 to 100 (Kreiss, Welch 1). “The Obama campaign used four scores that, on a scale of 1 to 100, modeled voters’ likelihood of supporting Obama, turning out to vote, being persuaded to turn out, and being persuaded to support Obama on the basis of specific appeals (Kreiss, Welch 1). Social media played a key role in Obama’s presidential campaigns—both in 2008 and in 2012.

Kreiss and Welch write,

“Although Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are the most popular, and most talked about, social media platforms, campaigns have developed a diverse social media strategic communications strategy to keep up with rapidly changing media contexts. For example, both campaigns shared song lists on Spotify, swapped recipes on Pinterest, posted pictures on Instagram, and had staffers spend time on Google Hangouts—none of which existed in U.S. markets during the 2008 election.”

I always knew social media played an important part in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but I had no idea how in-depth and strategic these social media campaigns were. For instance, “Twitter emerged as a key medium for campaign communications during the 2012 cycle” (Kreiss, Welch 16). To put this point in perspective, Obama’s tweet about his 2008 victory was retweeted 157 times (Kreiss, Welch 16). On election day, Twitter users sent out “1.8 million tweets about the presidential election” (Kreiss, Welch 16).

However, in 2012, “The Obama campaign’s tweeted photograph of the president embracing the First Lady after networks announced his reelection became social media’s most shared image ever, receiving more than 800,000 retweets in less than three days” (Kreiss, Welch 16).

The use of Twitter exploded between 2008 and 2012. Facebook became an even more targeted and strategic way of communicating for Obama’s campaign (Kreiss, Welch 19). Social media played a huge role in Obama’s election and reelection, and in his Forbes Magazine article, Paul Laudicina asks, “If social media got Obama elected, shouldn’t it help him govern?” As a general rule for myself, I try to stay away from talking politics along partisan lines, but the Forbes article offers a new perspective of social media that is independent of partisan politics.

Laudicina agrees, “Social media has changed the way we communicate” (1). That is a basic fact, and we all know it to be true. He also argues, “Social media is an oft-untapped force of us to listen and engage in a two-way dialogue essential to effective leadership,” (Laudicina 1). I think that is an interesting concept—rather than one-way communication from leaders to constituents, maybe leaders should engage in two-way communication. Would that help leaders govern more effectively? Laudicina thinks it is certainly possible.

He writes, “Modern, informed and connected electorates need leaders who can understand their perspectives and needs, interact and ‘lead’ in a way that will engender respect, understanding and, ultimately, support” (3). Laudicina agrees that the Obama campaign was successful in utilizing social media in the campaign, which was primarily one-way communication (2).

He contends,“His [Obama’s] campaign team effectively promoted a simple ‘Yes we can’ mantra. More importantly, they went beyond messaging to mobilize supporters to vote. Yet as successful as the Obama team was in campaign mode, they have been equally ineffective using the same tools to communicate proactively with the electorate” (Laudicina 2). Laudicina thinks Obama, and others, would be more effective leaders if they engaged in that communication beyond just the campaign trail and the election.

Forbes is largely a business-minded magazine, and Laudicina relates this idea of “two-way communication” to how businesses communicate with customers using social media (4). He insists the same idea and strategies can be applied to politics, as well, “Used properly – for a two-way dialogue – communications technology and social media should facilitate better understanding of citizen and customer concerns and, equally important, assure them that they are being heard” (5).

I tend to agree that political leaders can utilize the two-way communication strategies that social media offers, but does that actually foster more effective governance? Does it diminish the power of leaders? Moisés Naím, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of The End of Power, suggests,
“The cacophony of voices itself doesn’t limit power. As long as the speakers don’t hold the power to constrain or veto our ability to implement decisions, we can still act. And even better, we can use their input to help us make more effective decisions” (Laudicina 6).

I like the idea of communicating with our leaders through social media—not just through the ballot box. I think it is a great idea in theory, but it might not be as feasible in practice. Millions of people have access to social media, which means millions of people can send messages to political leaders. How will our leaders sift through millions of messages? Which messages will be deemed important enough to consider? Those are questions that Laudicina fails to answer, and I don’t think it’s something that can be definitively answered—unless this idea is put into practice. Nevertheless, I like the idea:

“Social media in particular offers us unprecedented transparency into our constituents’ and customers’ concerns, fears, hopes, insights and desires. It provides a virtual 24/7 town hall” (Laudicina 5).

Social media is growing and advancing every day. It provides millions of people ways to communicate their concerns, questions, criticisms, comments, and all things alike. I believe that experimenting with the tools of social media and interacting with constituents via social media is a good way to wade in the water without diving in head first, sinking, and, subsequently, drowning in the mass.

Here’s the link to the Forbes article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/paullaudicina/2014/08/25/if-social-media-can-get-you-elected-why-shouldnt-it-help-you-govern/

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