Monday, November 15, 2010

Candidates, Public Servants and governments using social media

Throughout the 2010 midterm election, candidates used social media to inexpensively advertise as well as to solicit volunteers. Campaigns operating on a tight budget must find innovative ways to reach potential voters. Social media is a cheap means for campaigns to can reach very specific demographics at very little cost.

For example, in 2008, online political consulting group i3 Strategies invested heavily in social media for a Michigan ballot initiative, according a September article on By microtargetting by age, the strategy group was able to send specific voting demographics campaign messages on a daily basis, and solicit familiarity with a voter base that would have been impossible to achieve using traditional media.

Once elected, politicians are also using social media to reach constituents. When he was a state representative, recently elected Michigan Congressman Justin Amash posted every vote and an explanation on his Facebook fan page. A Mashable article on Amash posits two reasons for his successful social media strategy. First, he is the only person who updates the Facebook and Twitter feeds. By personally updating his Facebook voters get a sense of authenticity. In a media culture where surrogates are the norm, voters respond to direct communication from candidates. Secondly, by directly commenting on his votes and his rationale for the votes then Amash is able to elevate himself above the speculation that normally envelopes politicians on the web.

In addition to campaigns and politicians, governments are also using social media.When President Obama travels abroad, he will often solicit opinions from citizens of the country where he is visiting. With resounding success, Obama often receives tens of thousands of responses in visits to countries without as available broadband access, such as Ghana and South Africa.

Brazil also uses social media to reach out to citizens to both improve government transparency and state services. Since the late-1980’s, Belo Horizonte, the third largest city in Brazil, has been operating under a participatory budget system, which allows citizens to contribute budgeting ideas. In 2006, the city have devoted one quarter of the participatory budget toward those who contributed their ideas online, in an e-democracy experiment. Both the participatory budgeting and to a lesser extent, e-democracy, have resulted in improved public works in the area.

All three examples demonstrate the potential for social media, when used in its correct, participatory nature, to impact all levels of government and society.

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