Color me cynical, but I was shocked by how many of my peers and friends actually tuned into the debates last night. It restored my faith in our society's ability to live in a democratic republic, to be sure.
But as I tuned in to the YouTube livestream and watched the tweets pour in, the evening turned into one more reminder about how far politics and campaign communications really are from other types of communications in this digital age.
I work in public relations, specifically training large corporations and government agencies how to respond to reputation issues online. A common question we get is "when is it appropriate to hold a press conference?" My answer: If you are Apple announcing a new product, or a government responding to a natural disaster or public emergency, schedule all the press conferences you want. If you're a regular company, focus your attention on quick, accessible messages through online channels, and add the human element through videos posted to YouTube and Facebook.
But politics doesn't follow this model -- and is it that they're not caught up yet, or that the model just doesn't work for governing a country? Even in a 24-hour news cycle where Twitter is king, press briefings at the White House are still crucial communications points for any administration. Campaigns still schedule stump speeches and expect media to show up to cover them. And we still have debates.
Why? Because people want to hear the candidates unfiltered and on-the-spot? Let me debunk that myth -- they know what questions will be asked, and they know what the other side is going to say. Because they want to sit in front of a TV screen for 90 minutes straight and hear about the nuances of Medicare vouchers and the economic policy? Doubt it. Because people want to compare the two candidates side-by-side? This one I understand. It is never going to happen outside a debate.
But by the time 2016 rolls around, will even political communications have adapted to a mobile society? I don't mean a soundbite society, only interested in the quick story on cable news. We've already moved past that. I mean, creating engaging and personalized content for each different demographic and campaigning to them that way. Less of the "generalizing for all" and more of the "answering to specific needs." Will people finally be so turned off by blatant politicking and fact-twisting that they'll demand a different way? Or is that the point of social living -- that we listen to all the issues, even the ones that we feel like don't pertain to us? I'm not sure the TV audience ratings will give us that answer, but maybe the conversations online will.
Sound off in the comments.