I recently watched an insightful piece by BBC’s Matt Danzico on the prevalent use of social media, specifically Twitter, in the political campaigns of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. According to the story, each campaign has areas in which it excels, while falling short in others.
The Obama camp actively scours the Twitterverse, analyzing the tone and language of their constituency and using it in their dialogue. In doing so, Obama has effectively used mirroring to relate to and empathize with the viewer. This is crucial if you want to be both relatable and accessible to Americans.
The Romney campaign, on the other hand, actively injects itself into the conversation. As social media has become increasingly participatory, this leverages viewers’ desire for engaged discussion. It allows Americans to read a candidate’s opinion in real-time in direct relation to the issues that are trending.
What neither camp has succeeded in is effectively championing the everyday citizen’s opinions. Social media essentially flattens the perceived hierarchical structure in society, allowing the average person to be a bastion of insight. Large news organizations, corporations and NGOs show their support for the opinions of their followers by retweeting their commentary, something that neither Obama nor Romney has consistently done.
How great of an oversight is this? Since both camps are neglecting this aspect, they effectively cancel each other out. It may, however, leave voters who are active in the Twitterverse, feeling disregarded, even if subconsciously. In a country that advocates equality, positioning a candidate as an authority who doesn’t gain at least part of his wisdom through the opinions of his constituents, is in frank contrast to the ideals they espouse.
The take-away is there’s a steep-learning curve, with politicians just now seeing the full panorama of what social media can do for them. At this point, it may be too early for Twitter to swing the presidential election, although it may become the linchpin in strategies to come. As a relatively new gambit by politicians, the full dividends have yet to be determined. It will be interesting to see how everyone learns from this round and the ways in which incumbents and challengers employ new media in the future.