Presidential Politics, Social Media and Public Relations

This week I will be honored to take part in a “P.R. of Politics” panel discussion that includes ETSU Public Relations Professor Dr. John King, Johnson City Press Opinion Page Editor Robert Houk, Ron Scalf, Publisher of Out N’About Magazine and myself. (Scalf previously worked on Tennessee Senator Bob Corker’s senatorial campaign.) My portion of the discussion deals with the social media strategies of the two candidates who are running for president of the United States. Here are some of the fascinating things I uncovered in my research with credit to USA Today, Al Jazeera, Economic Times, Huffington Post and The Today Show.

In addition to shaking hands, giving speeches and kissing babies, Economic Times says politicians must now have a “complimentary online strategy.” This is invaluable for the one third of American adults under 30 who get their news from social networks. As an example of how social networking is revolutionizing the way we communicate in politics, there were 10 million tweets during the first presidential debate which has been called called “the most tweeted about event in U.S. Politics.”

According to USA Today those who embrace changes in the media and communications technologies generally end up victorious. Examples cited by Al Jazeera include FDR embracing the medium of radio, JFK understanding TV and Reagan, the former professional actor,  was the first to embrace the “look and feel” of a campaign. In 2008 Obama capitalized on “the new media.”  And how does that look in 2012? If an election were held on social media “likes” and “tweets” alone Obama would be the easy winner. The President’s Facebook likes (30.8 million to Romney’s 9.3 million) or twitter followers (20.8 million to 1.4 million). However, given the weight that the “old fashioned” televised first debate had for the Romney campaign (70 percent of those polled said Romney won) we have to ask ourselves: Will “likes” and “tweets” convert to votes on November 6?

Al Jazeera points out that neither candidate is using social media in its truly social form. with candidates responding directly to citizens and citizens able to post content etc. The new media is still being used to raise money for the old media of TV advertising. Will this be the last time around for the power of traditional TV ads that already are losing their hold on the next generation?

Even the candidate’s wives are jumping in with Michelle Obama and Ann Romney’s Pinterest pages showcasing their favorite recipes. The candidates’ have YouTube videos and quirky Tumbler graphics with their moving gif heads.  The Obama team created share-able graphics following the “big bird” comment from the first debate and the “empty chair” Clint Eastwood monologue while the Romneys tend to showcase behind-the-scenes family photos.

The Today Show reported that data mining experts break down Obama and Romney followers into two distinct camps and they even know whether their supporters like smooth jazz or Samuel Adams beer! Who would have thought that four years ago?

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photo credit: sandcastlematt via photopin cc


  • Bill Painter says:

    Very interesting article, especially the differences in how each campaign approaces and showcases their views.

    • maryellen says:

      Bill, it was a very interesting panel discussion! Great discourse. Wish all political discourse could be so polite.

  • Sue Painter says:

    Wow! The differences in campaigning are shifting completely. I agree that winners will learn how to embrace the new social media structures, which in and of themselves change all the time.

  • MI am one of those who gets my news from social media. I never watch the news on TV and I don’t read the paper. I follow news venues, media figures, and publications I like on Twitter. I also love the Twitter community because there is always a conversation on current events happening. Twitter has replaced my magazine subscriptions, my newspaper subscription, and the television in our household for both Brian and I.

    • maryellen says:

      Jennifer Wow! And I thought I loved twitter! Thanks for sharing how you get your news. It is so interesting to see the evolution of news consumption and the new channels we consumers use!

  • Very interesting article, Mel. I actually never watch the news either. I get all of my news from online sites and twitter. Most of the time breaking news hits my phone, pc, or social media accounts way faster than it appears on television and I haven’t read a newspaper in years. I can’t believe my husband still does, to be honest–everything in it is so late. It’s only good for very local news. Even my favorite weatherman has a facebook account which I follow, so I don’t even watch for the weather anymore.

    • maryellen says:

      Thanks Tiffany. I really do appreciate your insights into how you get your news today. This is so interesting. I’m sure we will see elections change greatly in four more years because of it.

  • Oh, and I do watch the debates on television, but I’m still checking in with twitter and facebook–it’s fun to read everyone’s reactions in real time.

    • maryellen says:

      Thanks Tiffany. I know what you mean about the fun of watching real-time reactions. I think I’ll probably just make up my own mind about tonight’s debate though!

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