Maybe its just a novel idea on my part, but lately I have been thinking about the possibilities the social sphere could provide towards the improvement of political communications - or the damage it could cause.

I stumbled across a recent post that talked about the implications of social media gone awry in Britain. On March 22, the Conservative Party in the U.K. launched an agressive Twitter campaign against Prime Minister Gordon Brown, using the hashtag #cashgordon. Below is a graph compiled by Meg Pickard that shows the trend of the hashtag.

Anatomy of a Hashtag

As it turns out, the idea was jacked from a U.S. website run by an anti-healthcare lobbyist. Just as the campaign began to peak, it was discovered by the U.K.s Liberal Party supporters, who in-turn used the same hashtag to the effect that the website was taken offline.

A shining example of social media implementation was during Barack Obamas run for the U.S. Presidency. His team helped developed a grassroots strategy; they were very successful in spreading their message across the web using Twitter and other social channels. The result: an Obama victory. This grassroots movement helped create a massive following, which further aided with fundraising and as a barrier against opponent mudslinging.

Another recent example of successful political messaging through social media would be the election of Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who was victorious in the special election to fill the seat of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. This Brown campaign utilized YouTube, Facebook, iPhone apps, Twitter, and strategic hashtags to deliver a homegrown message to the people. Video was the key driver for Brown. Thus, YouTube became a major platform for his plans to become Senator. The result of that campaign was half a million hits in the weeks leading up to the vote, while his opponent mustered a mere 51,000 hits. Needless to say, Brown won in a landslide victory for the seat previously owned by the Kennedys.

What is the true potential of political use of social media channels? With the almost real-time transfer of information, the use of polls, and other measurement tools, one might think that voters could take control of lawmaking decisions, rather than decisions being made based on special interests. The revolutionary possibility of social media leading to better constituent representation is very real and not that difficult to conceive.

If lawmakers honestly care about the interests of their constituents they would use social channels to realize the true concerns of the people they represent. Unfortunately, I dont believe most politicians would ever want such transparency. But Ill continue to hope for the best.

Politicians take note: Do not approach social media lightly. Be prepared with a sound strategy, which should include a clear idea of your target audience and the message to be shared. Otherwise, expect to see yourselves associated with the hashtag #fail.


Brad Barker is a seasoned interactive marketing professional, specializing in SEO and social media. He currently serves as SEO and Social Media Editor at AREA203 Marketing.

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Bradford Barker

"It’s all about making waves. Engaging with people online or in person is no different. To be the voice of a brand, one must buy-in to every part of that brand, whether it is something you are familiar with or not. One must be the brand. Listen, learn, engage, and grow." The Mantra of Bradford Barker

Bradford Barker

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6 Responses to “The Dangerous, Revolutionary Mix of Social Media and Politics”

  1. Casey Knox says:

    It was exciting an interesting to see this last presidential elections use of social media, or lack there of. Barack Obama did a great job with using social media for fundraising, and he won! :) While McCain did not embrace social media, and may not even know where to begin or send a tweet.

    I agree with your blog, especially how:

    "If lawmakers honestly care about the interests of their constituents they would use social channels to realize the true concerns of the people they represent. Unfortunately, I don’t believe most politicians would ever want such transparency. But I’ll continue to hope for the best."

    Great post!

  2. martin brown says:

    The real power of social media is in the conversations than ensue from it not in it, between like minded people if the Obama campaign is anything to go by. Mobilisiang like minded people to do more or to donate something. It adds alot and we are seeing just that in what twitter #ge2010 (UK General Election is on May 6th). I've written something on this subject recently:

  3. […] Social Media and Politics: A Dangerous Mix?, The SEO Scoop […]

  4. Zack says:

    Yeah, social media can be powerful for politics. What I'm waiting to see is a politician that tries to go the social media route for their campaign in hopes of being the next Obama, not carving out a solid strategy and it backfiring. Oh, it will happen and it will be a mess.

  5. Ari Herzog says:

    Keep in mind there is a vast difference between a candidate's campaign team using social media — vs the candidate him or herself using it. If elected, and if social media was pivotal in the election of the candidate, it's crucial for the position holder to use it. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.

    Caveat: I'm an elected city councilor, who used social media in my campaign and continue to use it for constituent relations.

  6. Ian says:

    Immediate response is both the strength and weakness of social media. A candidate who is confident of his/her position will see this as a plus.
    Most politicians, unfortunately, prefer to insulate themselves, and make decisions based on polls and surveys.
    As you say, most politicians don't want such transparency.
    .-= Ian recently posted: Review of Tokyo Prince Hotel =-.