Will Social Media Win the Election?
Colleen Burns 120000C4RP firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  election social connect ibm_redbooks ibmconnect social_business sarah_carter
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As I type, the presidential candidates are neck and neck according to the Wall Street Journal and I wonder if social has won (or will win) this election. I must, in advance, advise that I’m not eligible to vote, more an interested bystander -- and interested I am. My goodness, as a conservative (and that’s with a small c) Brit abroad, the political spectrum here in the US is something I’m really not used to.
I will never forget the Obama inauguration in January 2009. I was (as ever in the third week of January) at Lotusphere*, watching as the entire event came to a halt to watch as the 44th president was sworn in. Let me get back to my comment about the conservative Brit abroad... never had I seen so many political hearts worn on so many sleeves.
The political spectrum has changed fundamentally in the last four years. And so has the social spectrum. President Obama can be credited with being the first politician to harness the power of social. His current more than 31.5 million Facebook fans are nowhere near matched by fellow politicians. But I wonder what value is a fan these days? So I took a closer look.
At Facebook., because Facebook is the network where I see my network polarized, there are those that are red and there are those that are blue. There is no purple (because that’s what my art class taught me you get when you mix red and blue, although my art experiments have always produced just a mess). I’ve seen some pretty vitriolic support of both parties in my social network, but then most people I know in social circles are pretty outspoken. But, then what about the general public? What about the users of Facebook as a whole? What are their political leanings?
Will these figures surprise you? I wonder: They didn’t surprise my fellow IBM Redbooks Thought Leader, Keith Brooks, when I shared the results with him. Looking at the usage of Facebook and political leaders of the two main parties, I wasn’t too surprised to find that Obama had nearly three times the number of fans that Romney had (as Keith says, I wonder how many are from the last election, but does that actually matter?). What did surprise me, however, was that https://www.facebook.com/joebiden Joe Biden blew everyone else out of the water, when it comes to the percentage of his fans talking about him -- 36 percent. Almost double that of Paul Ryan, and four times that of President Obama.
These figures were taken earlier in the last week of October, as I pondered this blog entry, so numbers may have changed as election fever heats up, but I wonder if there is any truth in the suggestion that older voters want to justify their spend in the candidate? And now I wish, that in the survey I’m about to get to, that I’d asked about campaign support spending.
What’s changed since the last election? Social has perhaps leveled the playing field. No longer is social media the location only for Gen Y. We’re all there. And we’re all sharing our opinion. Or are we? I wonder….
That wondering made me ask a few people. I started asking around the office. Then I extended my survey to Facebook, and Twitter and LinkedIn. That’s right folks, I asked my social network about their political leanings and whether they’d share that on their social networks. We even asked the question at a live speaking event that my colleague, Victor Gaxiola spoke at with UC Berkeley Center for Executive Education. I shared my poll with groups on LinkedIn, I advertised on Facebook – to both supporters of the Democratic and Republican party. Oh boy, talk about opinion. You can be sure of one thing… everyone has one!
Here’s the results of that survey from LinkedIn – which was also promoted through Twitter and Facebook.
Do demographics make a difference? Crushingly (for my hypothesis) not in the way that I thought they would. The Gen Y’ers that I surveyed, would NOT share their political opinions on social. Period. Those who wanted to share their opinions on Facebook were those in their late 40’s and early 50’s. Overwhelmingly, the entire audience who was surveyed face to face had a look of horror about sharing their politics on LinkedIn – much more so than Facebook.
Look back again at those “talking about” Joe Biden. When it comes to politics and social, demographics might have made a huge difference four years ago, but has the playing field leveled? Take a look, too at the number of comments on the survey. More than one third of survey respondents felt the need to comment. Now while this is a small sample, that’s still a pretty large percentage.
We should recognize one truth. Public officials at least now recognize they need social media. The last four years, has shown us that, the evidence has been clear in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, where we’ve seen virtually every public figure taking to social, to provide support, information and guidance.
I’ll wrap this blog with my post from Facebook this morning.. “As ever I am intrigued by the demographics of social usage. And perhaps it’s the nature of where my family and I are located. On being asked by my mum to let me know that my Aunt died, my sister (two years younger than me) chooses Facebook messaging, my brother (definitely a Gen Y'er), picks email. On speaking to mum this morning, my comment was "oh, right, I didn't even check email." I guess our family adopts social the other way around.”
My sister put me right, when she said it “has nothing to do with usage of our family social networking, rather which tool would actually get to you and as you are a big social networker we thought Facebook would be the best answer.“
Will Social win the election? My view is that social not going to fix everything, it’s not going to win everything. Like my sister said, it was the way to reach me, like it’s the way to reach millions of people now. However, it’s simply part of the solution and it’s an increasingly important part of our communications mix, one that can’t be ignored, regardless of your audience, demographic or location. What do you think?
*Lotusphere in 2013 becomes IBM Connect – join us for this inaugural event in Orlando, Florida.
Sarah Carter joined the workforce as a taxi driver at 17 (a story in itself). After university and a spell with IBM, a year in Canada, she moved to the UK IT security & data archiving market joining a UK security and storage integrator. Sarah was integral in taking the company through an IPO on the alternative investment market, promoted to the board she worked in the team that acquired others and then sold the business. After 4 years with Actiance in the Europe and Asia team, Sarah relocated to HQ in California. Sarah is now General Manager of Actiance’s Social Business – she and her team work with the regulators – from FINRA in the USA, to the FSA in the UK. She also works with Actiance clients on best practice social media and collaboration strategies and regularly speaks on the topic on both continents.
Sarah is an IBM Redbooks Thought Leader