Technology and advancements in it have been shaping human life for the longest of our existence. The Internet Age further revolutionized human life by taking a significant portion of our daily lives online.
Now, it is widely considered that the business world is the first to reap the benefits of technological advancements but it is far from the truth. Governments have long been the beta tester for many of the technologies that mankind has been graced with.
So it wasn’t so surprising that the advent of the age of social media in the mid-2000s was spearheaded by Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign in 2008.
Until that point, technology wasn’t so prevalent in our daily lives, and the presidents who came before Obama were politicians of the Electronic age and not the Digital one – leaving little overlap for social media and politics.
Image Courtesy – Social Media and Politics
The use of technology, the internet, and social media was made to such a successful extent that it gave a relatively unknown politician a chance to become America’s first African American President.
What followed after was a complete overhaul of how politics works, with the Internet and Social Media taking center stage in the PR activities of many Governments and politicians around the world.
The Beginnings of Social Media and Politics – The First Social Media President
Barack Obama was quick to understand all the benefits the Internet and Social Media offered and made extensive use of them in his Presidential Campaign. He had a presence on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr, and many other social media platforms of that age that are now defunct.
Image Courtesy – Inquiries Journal
This allowed him to reach out to more people than was possible using traditional channels. This made it possible to run a grassroots fundraising campaign which ensured he wasn’t completely dependent on High Net Worth Individuals for Campaign Funding.
Armed with his trusty Blackberry, Internet, and Social media, he was able to take down John McCain, who was a bigger politician than Obama, having been a United States Senator for five consecutive terms.
Image Courtesy – Timothy Blotz
The landslide victory achieved by Obama convinced the political world about the power and influence of social media.
Knowing the advantages of the Internet and Social Media, the Obama Administration took Governance and PR onto Social Media Platforms. Twitter was extensively used for PR and introducing legislation using the handle @whitehouse.
Politicians around the world took note of this development and soon adapted to the change in technology, changing the political landscape worldwide.
How is Social Media different from Traditional Channels for Politics?
Social media and the internet are different compared to traditional channels. Though being primarily forms of entertainment is the main way in which the internet, social media and traditional channels such as print media, radios, and televisions are similar, there are a lot of fundamental differences between the two groups.
The differences are even more drastic when you consider them from a political perspective. We’ve listed down the differences below:
No barriers to access
If you want access to traditional media channels, you have to be an elected official or a prominent politician. The extent of access you have still depended on how far up you are in the political hierarchy.
The same isn’t the case with Social Media. Every politician has the same access to it, irrespective of your affiliations, post or standing. This levels the playing field and gives a fair chance to up-and-coming young politicians who may have more to offer.
A press conference, TV or Radio interview or an article in some newspaper are ways of communication. The most you can interact using traditional channels is during a press conference where you answer the questions raised by journalists.
Social Media allows politicians to directly reach out and interact with the voters in their constituency. This two-way communication allows for better understanding among voters and potential representatives.
News channels and Media outlets are businesses and have been filtering out information and only reporting on those bits that help them gain viewership. This creates a problem for both politicians and voters as filtered information may lead to confusion and misunderstanding.
Image Courtesy – Daily Kos
This issue is not prevalent on Social Media and politicians can put out all the information which can be easily viewed and accessed by the public and voters. This minimizes the damages that misinformation can cause.
Former NYC Mayor, Michael Bloomberg spent $1.1 Billion for his Presidency run in 2020, the majority of it going towards advertising. Politics is expensive, especially if you opt for traditional media channels.
Not every politician, especially newcomers, can afford to spend such staggering amounts for election campaigns. Social Media does away with advertisement fees as the platforms are public and organic reach can help you reach your voters with the right message and communication without spending much.
News or communication using traditional channels takes time to be published. Information is edited, filtered, and placed alongside commercials before being sent out.
Social Media lets politicians go online and inform people about some event, incident, announcement, or any communication that may be needed from anywhere and at any time. There is no delay which helps the PR effort a lot.
So it is clear now as to how Social Media has revolutionized Politics and leveled the playing field for everyone.
Mobilizing the youth has always been a big problem for politicians but social media has made it relatively simple.
Social media platforms are not made the same, so let us dive deeper to understand how politics functions on the most prominent platforms.
Prominent Social Media Platforms for Politics
Twitter and politics have become synonymous. Twitter dropped like a bomb on the social media scene, allowing people to directly interact with celebrities. More celebrities made their way onto Twitter and more users followed suit.
Image Courtesy – The Economist
Realizing the potential of Twitter to inform, influence and engage with potential voters, politicians rushed to join Twitter as well. Twitter allowed politicians to make announcements and reach out to people directly and instantly.
Voters were now able to raise questions directly to their representatives to which they responded. This turned Twitter into a powerful tool for both politicians and voters.
Politicians could directly inform voters about upcoming legislation, mobilize them to vote in the elections, oversee and manage political campaigns, host online fundraisers, respond to opponents, react to events or incidents, express their views about a topic or incident and the list goes on.
Voters could directly question politicians and hold them accountable for any mishaps or bad decisions. Create and steer mass movements on the internet in support or opposition of particular legislation, express their views and concerns regarding governance, call attention to incidents, events and requirements.
Politicians wield a lot of influence and power on Twitter and it benefits their political parties the same way Elon Musk’s twitter presence helps Tesla Marketing Strategy.
Image Courtesy – Statista
Various offices of Government administrators and elected officials are present in official capacities on Twitter these days. We have @POTUS for President of the United States, @PMOIndia for Prime Minister of India, @10DowningStreet for Prime Minister of UK, @KremlinRussia_E for the President of Russia and so on.
Twitter has seen a lot of intense political exchanges in recent years, from logical debates to trolling to outright insults. Twitter is and will remain a powerful tool for politicians when it comes to directly communicate with the masses.
If Twitter allows for a direct line of communication between politicians and voters, Facebook allows for powerful and penetrative distribution of political content to the masses.
With the largest user base among all social media platforms, the ability to exert political influence over the masses is unparalleled with Facebook.
Image Courtesy – TechSpot
The power and significance of social media were substantial but no one ever imagined that a single social media platform could turn the tides of a Presidential Election all by itself. The 2016 Presidential Election proved to be an outlier when Donald Trump won a seemingly unwinnable Presidential Race against Hillary Clinton.
This proved how much technology had progressed and how much of our lives we were living online. Politics was a big business when it came to Social Media Marketing but the 2016 Elections ushered in a whole new era.
Image Courtesy – Twiplomacy
These days every major political party and politician has a dedicated social media team to handle their Facebook accounts to ensure they’re delivering the right message to the right people to ensure they reel in more voters.
Similar to Twitter, a lot of Governments and their various departments are present on Facebook in official capacities with the objective of PR and information dissemination. This way the masses can be informed and notified about various important things.
Image Courtesy – Times of India
Facebook has enabled parties, politicians and social activists alike to raise awareness about issues through virtual meeting platforms, organize support rallies and protests. The importance, significance and impact of social media on Politics will only keep increasing in the coming days.
While Twitter and Facebook can prove to be sufficient for any political endeavors, politicians are always looking out for new opportunities to stay ahead of the curve.
Tapping into young voters has always been a problem for politicians worldwide. Youngsters have always steered away from politics but the leaders who were able to get them interested and mobilize them for a cause have changed the course of history.
Image Courtesy – USC CPD
The majority of Instagram’s user base is made up of Millennials and GenZers which presented an opportunity for Politicians to make the most of.
Now, Instagram lacks the direct line of communication of Twitter or the distribution capabilities of Facebook but the lucrative votes of the youngsters had politicians and their marketing teams figure out a way to make use of Instagram for their gains.
Image Courtesy – SEMrush
Instagram is a suitable platform for storytelling and Politicians and Political Parties have properly leveraged this to their advantage by posting highly engaging posts with narratives aimed at attracting young voters to join them.
Instagram was launched as an image-sharing social platform and with time it has evolved to support short and long-form videos as well. Politicians and Political Parties have been sharing images from important events and sometimes even moments from personal lives in hopes of being better able to connect with youngsters.
Image Courtesy – Twiplomacy
In their pursuit of luring voters to their camps, politicians are leaving no stones unturned. Going to extreme lengths to connect and engage with voters in hopes of their efforts translating into ballot votes on election day.
There are other Social Media Platforms used by Politicians and Political parties but those aren’t as prominent as the ones above mentioned due to a small user base or wide-scale adoption.
Snapchat is doing something amazing!!
Snapchat isn’t associated with or used for political purposes much but it has a very young user base. Elections, Voting, Politics, Contesting and other activities are vital for the survival of any Democracy and Snapchat understands this well.
However, as stated earlier, the youth of any nation does not show much faith in the Democratic process and hence usually do not turn up to vote. This has been a long-standing problem for all democracies and Snapchat is doing its part to solve this.
Image Courtesy – The Verge
Recently they launched a ‘Run for Office’ mini in-app tool to encourage youngsters to contest for various local offices. With this app, youngsters can overcome barriers such as proper information and resources.
This will better enable them to participate in various democratic processes and play an active role in governance at various local and federal levels.
Social Media has changed human life in all aspects and Politics is one big and important part of it. Social Media will not make the traditional media obsolete but will push it to a secondary or complementary role.
There were Social Media Strategies for businesses and now there are Social Media Strategies for Politics, even specialized ones to benefit Right-Wing and Left-Wing Politics. Strategies like email marketing may also come up with a time that can be automated with the help of email marketing software, reaching out to multiple people at once.
The combination of Politics and Social Media has proven beneficial for citizens, politicians and governments alike. We will have to sit and observe how this arrangement develops in the upcoming years.
We hope more platforms take up social political initiatives like Snapchat for a better future of Democracy and Mankind.