Social media does affect politics and it is an important medium many overlook. No matter how much old fashioned, stubborn or just plain fearful political operatives may tell us different, there can be success through social media.
This year I have seen first hand the positive and negative aspects of social media.
I enjoyed reporting on social media mistakes such as the incident when Winston Brooks and Maralyn Beck, who are Albuquerque Public School employees, called New Mexico Secretary of Education Designate “livestock”. Their questionably appropriate relationship went south quickly. (Read that blogpost here)
Social media, equipment for success
There are a number of other instances of social media gone awry which I could cite, but that is beside the point. There are thousands of public officials who use social media effectively, without mistake and and we never hear about it. The success and power of social media is also overlooked quite often and instead we focus on the fears and failures. I receive negative feedback attempting to discourage me saying “social media doesn’t matter” regularly. But social media does matter. It can transform the way we get things done. Everyone talks about the Carlos Dangers (Anthony Weiner’s) of the world, without looking at those who have successfully used Twitter, Facebook and blogging to win battles.
In a world where sharing information, getting the message out and listening to voters often becomes the path to victory, we can’t give up any chance at equipping our base to assist us in engaging our electorate.
A month ago I was emailed an article by a New Mexican friend. She was very excited to pass it on to me, explaining that in today’s world anyone can make a difference. I had never seen the Politico piece, but after reading it I recognized that it was true. The piece said that with a boost that began in social media and the bloggosphere, one unlikely candidate with financial disadvantages made a rise and went from obscurity to becoming a U.S. Senator (who is today one of America’s best known U.S. Senators– this happened in just a couple of years). Whether one agrees with Senator Cruz’ often controversial positions on issues, it cannot be denied that he continues to use social media wisely and effectively today:
“Ted Cruz is the Barack Obama of 2012,” said Sean Theriault, a University of Texas at Austin political scientist. “It is a great case study of using these tools in politics.”
For all the hype surrounding social media in campaigns, Cruz is among the first American examples of a dark horse candidate who rode to victory by tapping into the vast power of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and email. Whether he wins or loses Tuesday, the fact that he emerged as a serious contender — thanks largely to a foundation poured online — has even his opponents in awe.
“It was like watching a tree grow,” said Dave Jennings, a Houston-based Dewhurst backer who blogs at BigJollyPolitics.com. “You could see it work. I don’t know who was the arbiter of all those decisions, but the social media — the Facebook, all those Drudge ads, all of it — was brilliant.”
Among Cruz’s smart cyber moves: Weekly calls with supportive bloggers, who had access to the candidate throughout the race. Two full-time staffers focused on social media content, resulting in speedy responses to just about every tweet, Facebook comment and email. A microsite, cruzcrew.org, that empowered volunteers to take on tasks and print out campaign literature. The use of social media ads from the earliest days of the campaign to build a mailing list that is, in the words of Vincent Harris, the Cruz campaign digital strategist, “bigger than most of the failed Republican candidates for president.”
“This campaign was unique because digital wasn’t done to check off a box, digital led until maybe a few months ago” when fundraising made TV advertising possible, Harris said. “I was on every call. I got all the access I ever needed. I can’t recall ever getting turned down for a budget request.”
Cruz’s team did what they could to make their Web following feel empowered. The bumper sticker art, for instance, was picked via an online poll.
To be sure, Cruz’s reliance on online strategy was a necessity given his dramatic financial disadvantage. The candidate had very little money until this spring, when his evident surge improved the fundraising picture. In the May primary, he nabbed 34.2 percent to Dewhurst’s 44.6 percent in a field of nine candidates, forcing Tuesday’s runoff. A Public Policy Polling survey released Sunday showed Cruz had steamed ahead of Dewhurst by 10 points.
Cruz lacked money, so instead he developed a network of online support that began with wooing the state’s conservative bloggers, many of whom put a prominent “Bloggers For Cruz” badge on their sites. The candidate and his surrogates have been active and responsive on Twitter and Facebook; on Monday alone, Cruz tweeted more than 20 times, mostly to thank users who wrote supportive messages. He has more than 25,000 followers on Twitter and 84,000 Facebook fans; Dewhurst has about 4,200 Twitter followers and 42,000 Facebook fans.
Dewhurst was slow to deploy these methods, much to the frustration of supportive bloggers like Jennings.
“They kept talking about how they’ve got the experienced guy and Cruz was inexperienced, but if the experienced guy isn’t getting his message out, nobody is going to see it,” Jennings said. “I sat across the table from him and told him his team was letting him down.”
Looking at our Democrat opponents, we see the Left attempts to use social media effectively, though they often fail. Most recently I reported about Obama’s OFA breaking Twitter’s rules and spamming Republicans and members of congress. Whether going around the rules or not, the Left uses social media and it has helped them succeed. In regard to local politics, this year I documented numerous examples of the Left’s mistakes, from the Democratic Party of New Mexico Twitter account’s spelling and grammar errors to a Twitter town hall with the state AG and Congressman Lujan which was hi-jacked by a handful conservative activists.
With a properly trained and equipped team, we can use social media to expand our voice and turn the tide. Aside from reporting on everything from a candidate’s strength to the Left’s corruption, we can use social media to reach out to people and let them know we are listening and working with them. As we head into 2014, I hope to see more conservative and Republican New Mexicans use social media properly as another tool to win elections.
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Have some questions about social media? Email me here.