Believers tout reach of social media in politics

cial media are changing the face of elections, and candidates who effectively tap into social media are finding a new level of engagement with their electorate, experts and politicians say.

Facebook and Twitter, among other social media networks, played a bigger role than ever in the 2016 campaign season, and experts say that trend is only going to continue.

Subir Bandyopadhyay, professor of marketing at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, said out of the $8 billion spent on the 2016 election season, $1 billion of that was spent on digital media. Social media were so big on the national level that most candidates had both a communications manager and a digital manager, a specialist to handle social media.

“There’s a legitimacy. (Social media) is no longer an iffy, doubtful kind of media. That’s a tremendous strength. That strength gives power to candidates. It gives you a leg up,” Bandyopadhyay said.

Social media offer several advantages to savvy candidates. The platforms are instantaneous, allowing candidates immediate access to who they are trying to reach. There is also a new accountability with social media; constituents can interact with candidates on a level never before experienced.

It is the immediacy and the interaction that can also pose challenges for candidates, he said. Negative responses to social media posts can be dangerous to a campaign, he said.

“Like a genie when it comes out of bottle, it gives you a lot of power. If it’s not handled properly, you have to deal with that,” Bandyopadhyay said.

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., a Democrat locally renowned for his frank and sometimes inflammatory tweets and posts to Facebook, said he started with Facebook in 2008 and Twitter in 2014. He said his social media accounts, combined with those of his wife, Marissa McDermott, helped them reach thousands during her successful judicial bid.

“It allows us as elected officials and politicians to put our platform out there,” Mayor McDermott said, adding that it also helps to personalize a politician. McDermott said his social media feeds are a mix of political material and things such as posts about the Cubs’ World Series win, his children and even bicycle rides.

“It’s like a window into your soul. If you look at my Facebook, you see what kind of person I am. You have a window into who Tom McDermott is,” he said.

That connectively engages voters. He said President-elect Donald Trump, who tweeted without filter for most of the campaign, successfully used his Twitter account to connect with his base. McDermott said he also posts his own tweets and Facebook posts, which means he has to act as his own gatekeeper, which can be a challenge.

Social media are a supplement to traditional news sources. McDermott said he can supplement coverage of a topic in traditional media with details that those mediums do not have space to accommodate.

“It almost levels the playing fields,” McDermott said.

Bandyopadhyay said social media are actionable platforms. Candidates have the ability to organize through social media. They can call together a rally, conduct polls, raise funds or solicit volunteers through social media, he said. Based on responses, they can change their message or direction as needed.

Trump brought social media to a new level in the 2016 campaign. Bandyopadhyay said that through his tweets, Trump was able to control the news cycle and direct attention to whatever he was tweeting about and away from information from which he wanted to distract voters.

Matt Reardon, who helped his wife, Democrat Mara Candelaria Reardon, successfully recapture the 12th District seat in the Indiana House in Tuesday’s election, said social media were useful for the campaign. Reardon said he saw how Trump was using social media as an effective way to reach a large number of people.

“It’s a pretty good way to get your message out and a really good start for free,” Reardon said. Social media complement traditional campaign advertising, be it targeted mailers or newspaper, radio and television advertising.

“It was a great complement to the messaging,” Reardon said.

Bandyopadhyay said social media give candidates an unprecedented platform to put their information before the population and to address misinformation that may be circulating.

Reardon said the campaign was successful in using social media to combat specific claims by Candelaria Reardon’s opponent, Rep. Bill Fine, of Munster.

“In our experience and understanding, the availability of information and sharing of facts is key to allowing people to make informed decisions. It helps to remove emotion from some of the political decisions if you have the facts in front of you,” Reardon said.

[Source:-Chicago Tribune]