Social Media & The American Election

yb5phcogpeo-kevin-morrisbanner.jpgSocial media will most definitely influence the outcome of the election. The question is: to what degree? Using the more narrow definition of social media, consisting of solely web-based electronic communications, excludes the influence of television and newspapers. Television programming and newspapers are the main producer of information regarding the election. From televised debates to comedic parody sketches to opinion pieces, Americans turn to news providers to access the opposing parties’ platforms and ideas and informed opinions from experts. So, what role do our digital social medias play in all this?

1uy8uuukids-elliott-stallionFacebook and YouTube may not be producing the information, but social media is the avenue through which many of these articles and video clips are shared and consumed. The double function of social media as a platform for speaking and listening separates it from televised and printed news*. Social media not only provides access to information, but also facilitates a discursive environment in which citizens can engage and discuss the information.

What separates the Democratic and Republican parties from other organizations is the significance of the candidate. While many organizations’ identities are reinforced by their CEO or another representative, almost the entire face of the Democratic and Republican parties has been entrusted to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The personal lives and personalities of the electorates has dominated the news, probably more-so than any previous American election. Therefore, the social media of each candidate has been carefully curated so as to portray a specific image.

Social media provides a space where the candidates can engage each other directly, without a mediator. A series of heated arguments occurred between the candidates on Twitter. The exchange below received a lot of media attention:

So, to what degree do social media actually influence the outcome? One could argue that if social media didn’t exist, the same discussions would be occurring in physical communities as opposed to cyberspace. Physical communities are limited by space and are therefore more limited than digital communities. However, the ego-driven nature of personal social media usage means that many individuals are often simply looking for social proof. Most users limit their feeds to sources that they already agree with. So, communities on social media are even more funneled than physical communities, often showing less diversity of opinion. Therefore, the outcome of the election is likely to be the same with or without social media. Social media, however, has completely altered the method of sourcing and discussing information.

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*Online news sources could be described as a digital social media due to the commenting features. Interestingly, many of the commenting functions on news provider websites are integrated with Facebook and other social media, thus reinforcing the organization’s intricate cross-platform network of social media. This is common practice for organizations, creating what Professor Friesen calls a “web-wall of media exposure.”

All images are CC0 and have been borrowed from WikiMedia Commons, Flikr, and Unsplash.

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Social Media: Are they really necessary?

Yes. Social medias are necessary, if not inherent, to organizations. Why? First, we must determine what a “social media” is. Literally, a “social media” is any tool used to communicate. In this way, a pen and paper could be defined as a social media, even our vocal chords! This, however, is not the contemporary understanding of the term. Today, we define social media as electronic means of communication (Mirriam-Webster online dictionary). For the sake of sanity and to abate the storm of semantics, all subsequent references to social media shall refer to the above definition.

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Always remember to factor in time for ping pong when deliberating your social media strategies.

So, are electronic communications really necessary to all organizations? Due to the overwhelming influence of computerized technology and the internet, every organization is, at the very least, aware of its presence. While any single organization sits somewhere in a vast spectrum of social media usage, I can think of few examples in which all means of electronic communication are unnecessary… save for a handful of extreme cases. A group who promotes “living off the grid,” for example, could have a desire to limit their electronic communications. However, a quick Google search will return plenty of results with active online communities, from forums to Facebook groups  to online publications. This example proves that even organizations that may appear to be adverse to electronic communication are able to benefit from proper use of social media.

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Fig. 1 Brian Solis’ Conversation Prism v4

 

Therefore, the important question is not should organizations use social media, but how. The sheer number of social applications and websites can be overwhelming (see: Fig 1. The Conversation Prism), not to mention the intimidating process of learning how to use them effectively. But an organization’s time and money is well spent if appropriate communication channels are established between the organization’s audience, customers, and within the organization itself. Furthermore, social media can aid in analyzing said communications so as to optimize customer relationships, marketing strategies, and internal infrastructure (Jayson DeMeyrs “The Top 10 Benefits Of Social Media Marketing“).

Where to start? A good place to start is to determine the fundamental goal of the organization and the budget available. Then, specify the audience: their size and demographics. Discuss how sensitive the communications must be. A women’s clinic, for example, will want to carefully shape their information and utilize secure channels. Lastly, specify what exactly is going to be communicated. Only after the organizational context is laid out should an organization delve into the mysterious and exciting waters of social media. And exciting they should be! Social media is a world ripe with opportunity to strengthen communications in any organization.

Note: all stock photos are borrowed from this wonderful site and have CC0 licenses.