Can the first survive without the other? Brief Look at the Issue
We live in a world today, where living your life through the internet is not uncommon: people organise get-togethers and parties, share photos, tell their life stories and even broadcast their ‘relationship status’ to the entire world. And as expected, the world of paparazzi, consumer goods and advertising followed pretty swiftly. In an age where you can find out what David Beckham ate for breakfast, is it possible for politicians to ignore this world anymore? Here at Yatterbox we ask ourselves this question and many others on a regular basis. In particular, we often wonder how the political landscape will look in future given the increasing use of social media by politicians. For example, will we ever see a debate in the House of Commons fuelled by questions from the public on Twitter?
The issue is the growth of the technologically savvy generation. As time goes on, a greater proportion of the population is plugged into the internet, creating an enormous new target market for politicians to promote themselves in. With this new target market come huge advantages.
Barack Obama is generally seen as being the first major politician to use social media (Twitter) to gain a significant advantage over his rivals. This was followed by a slow rise in usage by other politicians. However, in the early days many politicians just shrugged off this new medium of communication as a fad; it would never catch on they convinced themselves.
It is though no longer possible for politicians to ignore the influence of social media. With the 2012 US Presidential Election only months away, all of the major candidates for the Republican nomination are running extremely active social media campaigns. What’s more, the incumbent President Barack Obama has been keen to continue his leadership in this area by pioneering the newest social media channel; Google+. Barack Obama participated in a Google+ hangout in late January 2012 (here).
Advertising has also become easier, with social media providing the means by which companies can target people continually, be it via mobile phones, laptops or tablets. With sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube allowing the public to see everything that politicians are doing, transparency is also more important. This can work both positively and negatively, but if politicians are true to their word and use their social media presence to display this, it is possible to build up a feeling of trust amongst members of the public.
Admittedly, politicians can build trust with the public in other ways and failing to use social media is not a career threatening offence. However, there is one major issue that we have so far ignored: finance. Every election campaign, wherever it is, and whatever its scale requires money to finance it. With social media for the most part being a free commodity, if used well it can provide a campaign with a great deal of firepower at very little cost. This then frees up a lot of the budget to be spent on more old fashioned campaigning methods: posters and leaflets etc… This is something that should not be underestimated. For the same amount of money, a campaign can now reach far more people.
The other financial benefit of a social media presence is that it makes donating to political campaigns easier. During Barack Obama’s last election campaign, many of his donations were gained online (on average, around $200 at a time). This was achieved by installing a little widget on every page possible that people to donate easily, and in small amounts. This tactic vastly improved the size of his campaign budget. Moreover, in the 2012 US Presidential Election, Barack Obama has again ventured into unchartered territory by arming his campaign team with a mobile payment service called Square. The system allows anyone with a smartphone or tablet to make a mobile payment via a small credit card like checking device which plugs into the smartphone or tablet. See here.
So, in conclusion, whilst most established politicians will not see their careers abruptly ended in the short term by a non-existent social media presence, it provides too many benefits and advantages for them to ignore it in the long term. As we move into a more technologically dependent society, it is essential for politicians to be up to date with the rest of the world; if anything, just to show that they are in fact in touch with reality.