President Obama is called the Social Media President. During the 2008 elections, Obama embraced technology that extended beyond e-mail and websites to fully harness the power of social media to reach and energize people.
With the New Mexico primaries behind us, we are starting to see many candidates embracing the potential of social media. Brian Colón, candidate for lieutenant governor, avidly engages through Facebook and Twitter, posting his experiences from the campaign trail, sharing news and driving fundraising.
State Auditor Hector Balderas uses Facebook as a way to build and maintain relationships with his constituency. Gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez uses her Facebook page to share her campaign positions and communicate with her supporters.
The common thread is that all of these candidates use social media as a way to communicate directly with their supporters. When put simply, this does not sound revolutionary. What makes this so significant is they are reaching out en masse, in a very personal way, to voters.
Traditionally, walking, phone calls, e-mails and events have been the way to directly interact with the public. This meant candidates were only able to meet a very small portion of the public. They had to rely on third-party communication, ie. commercials, interviews, mailers and word-of-mouth support, to spread their messages and establish rapports with voters.
Social media revolutionizes candidate-voter relationships. Now, Brian Colón shares his life with his Facebook friends. He is able to talk with them, but what is more important is they are able to talk with him. His Facebook friends can send him an e-mail or post on his wall and know that it is Brian who is responding to them. They can meet him, and get to know him, and find out for themselves who this candidate really is.
Addressing negative press and scandal
A big question in social media and politics is what happens when you are not receiving positive attention? What if you are in the news due to negative press or scandal? People shy away from the front line of social media when confronted by personal/professional controversy. It feels easier and safer to communicate your position through a news release or a sound byte.
However, social media is the perfect platform to actively and informally combat negative press and deal with the potential fallout from scandal. It is the ultimate “your side of the story.” In this day of hyper communication and constant contact, keeping silent can cause more trouble than speaking up.
For instance, the controversy with Tiger Woods was heightened because he kept silent. His lack of engagement became as much a part of the controversy as the infidelity itself.
A local example of controversy and social media was the appeals judge race between Dennis W. Montoya and Linda Vanzi. Montoya’s social media strategy was not risk averse when it came to addressing the controversy head on. On his Facebook profile, he discussed the issues with his friends and did not shy away from the controversy. In the discussions on his profile, Montoya would clarify his position when asked, and he would answer any questions from his Facebook friends.
His strategy paid off. According to his Facebook friends list, he did not lose any friends. In fact, he gained friends. His transparency led to a successful social media campaign. Though he did not win the primary, his social media presence won him many voters he may not have had otherwise.
Connecting with people
Though not every candidate will face challenges like those in the Montoya/Vanzi race, mudslinging and controversy are often a part of the campaign landscape, and social media can help combat and address these issues. The social media platform gives candidates a chance to speak to issues that the press might not cover, or respond to issues in a highly personal manner.
The dialogue that social media fosters allows the candidate to become more than just another talking head. The candidates who are utilizing social media are saying they want to connect with people and they are interested in not only listening to what the voters have to say, but they want to participate in the discussion. Social media is the new political arena.
Armstrong is the senior consultant at SM Cubed, a social media consulting firm. By way of disclosure, she consulted for Hector Balderas and continues to consult for Dennis W. Montoya.