Social media has opened the floodgates of communication, allowing politicians to “directly” address voters. Barack Obama was one of the first to embrace the power of social, turning to the platforms to address votes during the 2008 presidential campaign – and he wouldn’t be the last presidential candidate to do so. However, with social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram gaining popularity for political use, some still question its full capabilities, advantages, and disadvantages.
There’s no denying that social media has changed how politicians, campaigners, and candidates communicate with voters. That said, it’s critical to understand how social media can be used effectively.
In this article, we’re going to look at:
- The advantages of using social media for political campaigns.
- When and how to use social platforms effectively.
- The limits of social in politics.
Social Media For Political Campaigns: The How, What, When, and Why
Social media isn’t something easily conquered – it’s a lesson that’s taken experienced marketers well over a decade to learn. Now, politicians flock to these platforms to share their views, garner support, communicate with followers, and gain votes. However, while many use social media, the question remains, “is it worth it?” Perhaps so, but the success of any digital campaign will depend on how it’s used, what is said, and when it’s said.
Generating Support Through Communication and Consistency
Studies have already shown that new politicians and parties can use social media to boost support. Without PPC ads, social media is an affordable, easy way to communicate with voters, accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The findings show that social media can help level the playing field between existing parties and newcomers, removing some barriers new politicians often face.
Social media has also proven that it’s an excellent way to generate support for rallies and events. For example, ex-President Trump expertly used Twitter to communicate with voters before and after rallies. While not all the results were positive, the impact of his continual communication and consistent message is undeniable.
The results have been proven in Africa as well, both at a presidential and parliamentary level. For example, Boniface Mwangi, a first-time Nairobian parliamentary candidate, achieved notable success on social media without any official backing. Using Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, he managed to launch a robust digital political campaign.
Other than support, politicians often require funding and donations to sustain their campaigns. That’s particularly true for countries like the United States, where campaigns can be extremely costly. However, social media platforms open up new avenues for political parties to raise funds. Using Twitter, some politicians have managed to raise funds between 1% and 3% in a single month of what a 2-year traditional campaign would generate.
Humanising Politics And Using Micro-Influencers To Reach New Audiences
People want to feel as if they have a connection with the politicians and parties that want their votes. To that end, many politicians have begun to use social media to show their “human side” to voters. Whether that means sharing a few exciting videos of their dogs or sharing live video chats, voters need to see politicians as people they can connect with.
In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (also known as AOC) became one of the youngest members of congress after seemingly appearing from nowhere. She didn’t rely on traditional methods to establish herself or connect with followers. Instead, AOC used social media and micro-influencers to devastating success.
By doing something as simple as playing the popular game “Among Us” with well-known and influential streamers, she forged a connection with young voters throughout the United States. AOC stepped outside of the norms and used social media and influencers to humanise herself while raising awareness regarding the importance of voting.
Her success proves that it’s not just important to be on social media; what you say, how you say it, and how you portray yourself has a significant impact on how voters perceive politicians. In South Africa, forging these connections are critical.
According to City Press, 75% of voters under the age of twenty won’t be ticking a box on November 1st, no longer having an interest in “party politics.” Now, more than ever, politicians need to communicate with young voters in a way they understand through voices they trust, making micro-influencers highly valuable.
Some politicians in South Africa have started to adopt similar tactics to approach voters, hosting live video chats on platforms like Facebook and Instagram and taking part in platforms such as Twitter Spaces. However, there is definite room to grow.
The Limits of Social Media In Politics
While social media holds a lot of influence in politics, there are still limitations to what can be achieved. Some of these are due to costs and budget constraints. Others are due to restrictions and the ever-changing digital environment. Below, we will look at a few key factors that limit the capabilities of social media and its influence in politics.
Costs Vs. Success
Establishing a personal connection with voters has become one of the popular ways for politicians to use social media, as we’ve already mentioned. However, some have used the platforms to run full-blown electoral campaigns, similar to those popular on television and radio. Unfortunately, these campaigns aren’t for the faint of heart or light of pocket.
During the 2020 elections in the United States, Mike Bloomberg became the richest man to ever run for president. He spent over $1billion on his campaign, of which a significant amount was spent on his Instagram campaign and micro-influencer recruitment.
According to The New York Times, 70% of the total campaign budget was spent on advertising. However, despite the massive investment, Bloomberg still had to drop out early in the race, paying approximately $23 million per earned vote.
In short, while social platforms can be an excellent way to communicate with voters and establish a connection with them, paid ads may not be the way to go.
False Information And Social Restrictions
Due to the increased use of social media as political platforms, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms have implemented strict monitoring and suspension rules. To avoid another situation similar to the Capitol Hill Riots, these platforms now review political posts – amongst others – to ensure factual information is being shared.
Consequently, many politicians and official political accounts may find themselves closely monitored and face a permanent suspension for repeated offences. For example, ex-president Trump still has a permanent suspension on his Twitter account after repeatedly sharing what the platform deemed as “false information” and “inflammatory content.”
For those politicians that turn to social media to connect with voters, the demand for honest, factual information is clear.
Social platforms are an incredibly robust tool. It can give politicians a way to communicate with and connect to their voters in fun and meaningful ways while encouraging them to vote. However, despite its undeniable capabilities, it’s also clear that there are costs, requirements, and certain limitations.
South African politicians may yet have some growing to do on social media platforms, particularly to grab the interest of young voters. With the right tools and approach, social media can give a smart, social-savvy politician a great headstart over their competitors.