Social Engagement: What Happens When You ‘Like’ Barack or Mitt

Do you like Barack Obama? More than 26 million Facebook users do. Log on to the president’s Facebook page, run by his reelection campaign, and you can see whether any of your friends approve of the president and whether they posted about him recently. You can share that content yourself, or perhaps leave a snarky comment.
But know this: when you engage with the Obama campaign through social media, the campaign’s digital team takes detailed notes. And when you interact with Republican presidential campaigns on social media, their respective digital teams are playing just as close attention.
Social-media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are just that: social. A candidate’s remarks can now be picked up and broadcast around the Internet in real time — and anyone with an Internet connection can fire commentary right back. And just as it makes it easier for you to find out about a candidate, it also makes it easier for a campaign to find out about you. In 2008, then-candidate Obama’s use of social media was revolutionary; in 2012, the ubiquity of social-media platforms has made immediacy and intimacy the new normal.
Campaigns “have to be nimble. They have to be listening as much as they’re broadcasting,” said Ryan Davis, director of social media strategy at Blue State Digital, a firm that advises the Obama campaign.
On social-media platforms, supporters, opponents, journalists, and campaign staffers can all try—second by second—to drive the conversation. That fast-paced, open exchange is exemplified by Twitter, a site where users can share breaking news and minute-by-minute commentary.
“With Twitter in some cases, this is a 24-second news cycle,” said Vincent Harris, founder and CEO of Harris Media LLC and an adviser to former Speaker Newt Gingrich. Fail to do online damage control, and you risk ceding control of your campaign narrative.
Most Americans still get their political information from cable news. But today, roughly half the U.S. population has a Facebook page, and—although a small proportion of Americans are active Twitter users—cable-news coverage increasingly responds to what has caught fire on Twitter. A video posted to YouTube can reach anyone with an Internet connection.

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