Social Media – effective campaign tactic or waste of time?

As this year’s presidential candidates are eight weeks away from decision day, they’re competing even more for our eyes and ears. Countless TV commercials, online ads and emails have already started, and we’re not even halfway through September. But, as a marketing PR professional, I find it fascinating to see how this election has incorporated social media tactics on a whole new level.

Through promoting his Facebook page and other social networking sites, communicating on Twitter, driving supporters to his Web site, and offering text messages, Obama reaches out to young voters, and it seems to be working. For example, he has more than 1.6 million supporters on Facebook, while McCain has just over 250,000. On Twitter, nearly 73,000 are following Obama, and McCain doesn’t even have an official Twitter account. These numbers are also reflected in national polls; among 18 to 29 year olds, who are typical social media users – Obama leads McCain 52 to percent to 40 percent (according to a recent Reuters/Zogby poll).

While McCain also has a Facebook page and a Web site, he’s by no means a maverick when it comes to technology – the candidate has admitted that he not only rarely e-mails, he also is effectively Internet-illiterate. However, in a recent and surprising twist of fate, McCain was able to connect with young voters. In response to a McCain ad that compared Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, Paris filmed her own campaign ad thanking McCain for his endorsement for her candidacy. This video has garnered more than seven million views on funnyordie.com and more than 1,000 responses to Paris’ ad have been added to YouTube. While the increase in online discussion about McCain was completely accidental, it did get more young people talking about him, which may work in his favor in the long run.

We still have a couple of months to go before we know the full impact of these new tactics, but we have already seen how they can effectively engage an overlooked and often under-appreciated segment – young, dedicated voters. It will no doubt be an exciting election to watch!

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