Larry Parnell, a top PR professional and professor at George Washington University, and David Almacy, a former press director for President George W. Bush and a public affairs specialist at Edelman in D.C., led this session. Parnell began the session by establishing the context of social media, presenting the statistics of adoption and usage of various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and YouTube. The presenters then addressed the rationale for targeting online voters. Quite simple, social media users are more politically oriented, more active, more connected and raise more money for causes and/or candidates than non-users.
Parnell then outlined nine “things we know” as developed through The Atlantic’s blog:
- People and campaigns mostly use social media for dissemination, not dialogue.
- Campaign websites remain the hub of presidential campaigns.
- Non-major parties tend to converse more on Twitter and Facebook.
- “Elite” journalists converse with each other through social media, particularly Twitter.
- There’s a high potential for non-elite, anonymous users to “succeed” in communicating via social media.
- Discussion tends to happen around news events that are already being covered. (i.e. Social media users are not driving news but commenting on it.)
- What remains special about social media is that non-elite users control distribution.
- Participating more in political discussion online doesn’t necessarily correlate with an increase in political knowledge.
- The effect social media will have in this year’s elections is that the platforms allow non-elites to frame and distribute content made by elites.
Almacy began his portion of the presentation by introducing the concept of “transmedia storytelling,” which involves the convergence of mainstream, owned, hybrid and social media. Almacy also discussed specific measures of political social media involvement: popularity, influence, engagement and trust. Almacy also showed how campaigns are increasingly using their own content in addition to content generated by their supporters, which is more authentic. In his research, Almacy has found that while Obama/Biden have more combined followers and likes, Romney/Ryan have higher engagement rates.