Politics has definitely come a long way since the now cliché cigar smoke-filled rooms of party conventions where the head honcho politicos crafted the platform to their liking. After the Obama campaign's eruption of voter engagement through employing user generated content submission tools as well as social media, the floodgates have opened for candidacy platforms to become not only grassroots generated, but legitimately formulated by the voters.
With the proliferation of the Twitter movement, people across the country have tweeted their way to significance. Whether it is spreading movie reviews that lead to a lackluster opening of a blockbuster or adding a hashtag (#HandsOff) to rally support opposing health care reform, who ever thought 140 characters could change the course of humanity?
Now, many will say that such a characterization is mere hyperbole and exaggeration. And, to be honest, I agree. Do I think that Twitter users can actually directly derail healthcare reform? No. But, I do think that local communities of Twitter users can rally up their "#HandsOff" counterparts and disrupt a town hall? Yes. And they have. If you multiply this across the country, you are not only looking at a change in the course of events, but a grassroots revolution. So, Twitter and other social media tools clearly have the "bottom-up" power to change events, although have not proven to have a direct affect on many correlated occurrences like lackluster movie openings.
Regardless, though, this sort of grassroots organizing really does open the gate to engaging voters in an entirely different way. For the past several campaigns, candidates have prided themselves on taking ideas from voters and incorporating them into their platforms. From "idea boards" to "submit your policy" tools on websites, campaigns clearly have wanted the capacity to involve voters in an entirely revolutionary way with their policy operation.
So, why not through more comprehensive social media?
For those of you who say these tools are already social media-esque, I urge you to read on and compare that functionality with what I am about to discuss. On Twitter, for example, candidates could engage their voters by creating a hashtag like #Ideas4FL and aggregate all of that conversation on an "Ideas Board" on their website. Now, when a candidate proposes a specific policy initiative, his supporters can voice their opinions and hold a real conversation with the candidate and other supporters that can be tracked by the campaign.
While this seems like a simple idea, many campaigns rely on normal voters like you and I to submit policies to the "Ideas Board" with sources and actual comprehensive analysis. Most normal voters have neither the time nor the expertise to perform this task and would much rather tweet a simple policy idea or comment on a proposed one via Twitter. And, it's much cooler than a wonky idea board on some candidate's campaign website.
On that front, Twitter enables candidates to hold an online conversation with supporters as well as engage prospective voters in a medium that actually allows for convenient interaction. As for Facebook, one approach that candidates can take is some sort of integrated Facebook application including YouTube capability. Candidates can request that supporters or fans submit YouTube videos about their policy ideas and then display those on Facebook as well as Twitter. In order to increase involvement, candidates can promote these campaigns by promising the *th follower or *th video submission a personal phonecall or some sort of prize. Also, for example, a bunch of the videos could actually be responded to directly by the candidate.
For candidates, this sort of social media engagement with voters allows for a buzz-creating conversation online that is more feasible than when one is on the campaign trail. These days, if candidates can create an online presence with creative campaigns such as these, they would do wonders to bring voters and Americans into their operation's inner workings--a possibility that signifies the sensational progress we've made from smoke-filled rooms to 140-character status boxes.
(Please be on the look out over the next few weeks for further posts pointing to specific examples by candidates that are at the peak of the nexus between social media and voter engagement.)
Follow Stephen Ratner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/StephenRatner