In his analysis of Barack Obama’s use of social media in Social Media 302, Associate Professor Scott Meis called attention to a key difference between this campaign cycle and those of the past:
In the past, a campaign team may have overreacted to a video such as Obama Girl or been concerned about not having a say in the messaging behind a video such as Yes We Can. Instead, the Obama team has embraced these videos and recognized the value and power of user-generated content in moving others to action.
That’s a really crucial change in the media landscape, and it’s here to stay. Candidates formerly would try to control the campaign’s message, but that has become extremely difficult if not impossible. As Scott mentioned, Obama Girl had a brief period last summer in which she essentially dominated the campaign news.
But now BarelyPolitical has also added “McCain Girl” to its YouTube lineup:
And just as we will expect to see Obama-McCain and Biden-Palin debates in the next 60 days, there is also a “Candidate Girls Olympics” competition.
Social media are more than just “new media.” I define new media as a way for organizations to bypass the mainstream media and deliver content directly to audiences. Social media means they aren’t “audiences” anymore. They can and will talk back, whether on social networks or through their own blogs.
As Scott said, it’s encouraging that both of the major campaigns have significant involvement in social media. (You can read about the McCain effort in Social Media 301.) But whether the campaigns are participating or not, the reality is that with the widespread availability of these cheap and easy tools, rank-and-file people across the political spectrum will be engaged on-line in this momentous election.