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Campaigning with Facebook – Politicians Movement into Social Networks

With the 2012 elections entering the final two-month dash to the finish line, we have seen an increased push from both President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney into the sphere of social media in an effort to garner political support, outreach, and ultimately more votes come November 6th. Political strategists in both camps have recognized the importance of social media in spreading political messages, through the unique connections that these social networks can provide. Utilizing both popular social sites like Facebook and Twitter, Obama and Romney have made leaps and bounds into the social media world. Julie Bykowicz of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Romney’s campaign is the, “first political campaign to purchase a “trending topic” on Twitter,” allowing his personalized ‘hashtag’ to appear on the front page of the website for millions of people to see. Even network news stations are jumping on the social media bandwagon in anticipation for the election coverage. CNN has partnered with Facebook to create an application to analyze trends in posts about the election and political sentiments. Bykowicz states that the application, “view[s] trends occurring in different states, age groups and male versus female.”

These forays into social media provide an interesting opportunity to apply the concepts we have learned about social networks to a real life situation. We studied the concept of social bridging, where a weakly connected pair of individuals can learn or share unique information between highly disconnected social groups. We also learned about the concept of social lift relating to a person’s news feed on Facebook or Twitter. The lift was defined as the likelihood of another person sharing or ‘re-tweeting’ a message from a friend or connection. Both of these concepts play into politicians’ strategies of using social media. By moving the campaigning more heavily onto Twitter and Facebook, the two candidates are trying to exploit the proven phenomenon of social lift as a result of bridges in social connections.

The diagram below shows how weak connections as the result of local bridges can bring novel information into tightly knit networks that would not have otherwise seen whatever has been shared. 

When a politicians page is shared, or a tweet from a politician sent out to all of your followers, the number of people the message gets to is exponentially compounded as compared to previous election years of TV ads and speeches. Weakly connected individuals who would not usually get information about the election from each other can now share stories, opinions, and even promote candidates to hundreds of other individuals in their friendship circle. With social networks and online friendship spheres likely sticking around for the foreseeable future, politicians have made the smart decision to move part of their campaign into this new medium for affecting voters and spreading their message.





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September 2012