Tweeting to Victory; Social Media Is the Key to Upsetting Obama

Article excerpt

Byline: Anthony Welcher, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The candidates who grasp how technology is changing the political landscape and engage one-on-one with their voters in the coming months will have a big advantage this fall. Candidates like Republican Rob McKenna, running for governor of Washington state, will win even when the electoral odds should be stacked against them in blue states. More than 50 percent of the U.S. population and 65 percent of registered voters have a smartphone, and the majority of them are using Facebook and other social networking venues. On mobile devices, more than 30 percent of the usage is dedicated to social media. These tools are empowering grass-roots voters to share ideas, validate or repudiate political leaders and make instant multimedia pressure a factor in how a modern democracy works.

This use of technology coincides with a fundamental shift in modern communication and the power of the people. As voter discontent grows, information increasingly is shared by social and other forms of digital media among the grass-roots base. At the start of 2012, 53 percent of the U.S. population spent an average of 13 minutes a day on Facebook.

While campaigns spend billions this year on traditional methods of outreach such as TV, their messages will be readily counterbalanced by much more inexpensive communication on various social networks by peer-to-peer chatter and fact-sharing and -checking. There's a reason for this: According to Erik Qualman, noted social networking author and expert, 90 percent of users surveyed trust peer reviews, while just 17 percent trust advertisers. The key message of this survey is that the political establishment needs to grasp that future elections will be won or lost based on the electorate substantiating or repudiating a candidate's message among their social networking relationships rather than just buying into the purchased message of the TV or radio ad. Viewed another way, imagine your social networking referrals are like mail in your mailbox: You open the card from a friend and toss the junk mail in the garbage.

It's easy in hindsight to view the failure of a traditional campaign strategy, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry's campaign flub last fall is a prime example of when a digital media plan might have changed his future. In November, he was flummoxed for 45 seconds onstage over a question related to which federal agencies he would eliminate. Though it was a mental lapse in the midst of intense pressure, the media ran the story and within one news cycle destroyed Mr. Perry's credibility. If his campaign had a well-developed digital social media strategy, it could have pushed out a message to the campaign's mobile app, text list, Facebook page and Twitter feed with talking points about what had happened and how to respond. …