Guest post from KET public affairs assistant Kara Ferguson
What’s in a ‘like’? Would a ‘like’ by any other name be a vote?
You click ‘like’ on Facebook for the candidate that best aligns with your beliefs and share that information to all of your digital friends who now probably deduce that’s your preference versus the opposition.
You re-Tweet links and choice commentaries that particularly resonated while you are closely following the lead-up to this election. You want your voice heard.
But can social media activities foreshadow the outcome of the election?
October 15th at Miami University of Ohio, Sam Graham-Felson, chief blogger for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Becki Donatelli chief Internet consultant to John McCain’s two presidential races, shared their thoughts and answered questions about social media’s role in the 2008 election and the future of social media in political campaigns in general.
“Social media is an outlet for people who would’ve otherwise never have been heard,” said Graham-Felson.
People take to Facebook and Twitter to share, rant, spin facts, and argue their political opinions hoping to sway their online friends into voting for their candidate of choice.
“Social media really wasn’t that much of a factor in ’08 and now it is vastly important,” said Donatelli.
From a USA Today article: “One in six social network users say they’ve changed their views about a political issue after discussing it or reading posts about it on a social networking site, according to a Pew Research Center survey fielded in January and February of this year. “
Judging solely on what is trending online and who has more ‘likes,’ the current Gallup Poll results would look a lot different. (The last presidential preference numbers posted at the Gallup Poll website on Oct. 29 showed a tie with 48% pro-Obama/Biden and 48% pro-Romney/Ryan.)
At last count, Barack Obama’s Facebook page shows he currently has more than 31 million people who ‘like’ his page compared to Mitt Romney’s Facebook page, which only has 10.3 million ‘likes’. On Twitter, Obama leads again with more than 21 million followers compared to Romney’s 1.5 million.
Obama’s campaign is the leader across all social media platforms and activities according to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Donatelli and Graham-Felson agree that this says more about the demographic on social media sites rather than as any kind of prediction for the November 6 outcome.
“I think the Internet has helped keep Obama really, really strong,” said Graham-Felson. “Now they are using new tools but the exact same principles.” He adds, “The key to utilizing social media in elections is going to be how to turn a Facebook ‘like’ into a vote.”
Donatelli suggests that it is less about the number of followers or likes and more about the quality of posts shared about the candidate.
Binders full of women Internet memes, hashtags about ‘horses and bayonets’ or ‘Are you better off?’ have made their way to our Facebook and Twitter accounts thereby demonstrating what resonates with social media users who will likely vote.
Can what we share and post really influence votes?
The November 6 outcome will no doubt be studied from multiple angles, including stats on just how much influence social media had in the 2012 election.