GOP 2012 Candidates Shouldn’t Underestimate the Power of Social Networks

This year’s presidential election may not be decided by which candidate makes better use of social media, but it will play an important role in organizing supporters and speaking directly to voters .

“New Media” come quite far since 2008, which many have dubbed “the first social media election.” Technology is more advanced and more people frequent social networks now than ever before, making an active online community an asset to campaigns.

“It’s not just young people anymore,” Aaron Smith, a Senior Research Specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project explains. “They were joined by older and more conservative older adults in 2010,” he said. “It’s now a space where a broad range of demographics go to talk about this stuff.”

Smith said 54 percent of U.S. adults representing 73 percent of Internet users went online to either get news and information about the 2010 midterm elections or to get involved in a campaign.

At the end of 2011, two-thirds or 66 percent of online adults use social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and almost half of American adults can use these applications on their smart phones. This capability provides a whole new frontier for campaigns and how they reach out to voters.

The real value in social networks is rooted in sharing. The vast majority of people use social media to connect with friends and family, and they trust those sources of information much more than the Internet at large.

“The power of this stuff [social media] is to identify the evangelist and enlist them to get others involved and get people to donate,” said Smith. “They are the people you want to reach.”

Fortunately for the Republicans presidential candidates, whose social media networks nothing compared with President Obama’s, social media experts argue quality matters more than quantity. Smith said what the GOP candidates’ online communities lack in numbers, they make up in influence.

Looking only at Facebook, Mitt Romney leads the GOP candidates pack with more than 1.5 million fans while Santorum has a mere 175,000 fans.

The 2008 election may have been the “first social media election,” but the influence of social networks like facebook and twitter will only continue to exponentially increase as more users join and more platforms are developed. Social media will not likely determine the 2012 election, but its value should not be underestimated.

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