David Almacy and Larry Parnell on “Social Media and the 2012 Election”

The second breakout session on Saturday was called, “Social Media and the 2012 Election.” This presentation had two speakers: David Almacy, Senior Vice President of Digital Strategies at Edelman PR, and Larry Parnell, PR Program Director at The Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University. Almacy and Parnell took turns at the mic to discuss how social media has been involved in the past few elections, with increasing importance each term.

Parnell stepped up first. He shared that Facebook users are two times more likely to be engaged in politics than those who do not use Facebook. Additionally, Facebook users are five times more likely to recruit friends to various campaigns (political or otherwise). Facebook users also tend to raise more money than non-Facebook users. All of these statistics prove that social media has become essential to the 2012 Election. Social media users are extremely influential.

Because discussion of the election is so prominent in social media, it is easy for the candidates to say or do something that will become a highlight in online conversations.

For example, during the presidential debate when Romney commented that he would cut funding to PBS, “Sorry Big Bird,” he became an easy target for social media trends. Within minutes, “Big Bird” was trending on Twitter and anyone who wasn’t watching the debate knew that Romney was planning to take away Big Bird. This is just one instance of many where social media has impacted public opinion of the presidential candidates.

Parnell also shared an article that lists nine things we actually know about how social media shapes elections:

  1. People and campaigns mostly use social media for dissemination, not dialogue.
  2. Campaign websites remain the hub of US Presidential campaigns.
  3. But non-major parties tend to converse more on Twitter. Especially pirates.
  4. Elite journalists converse, too — with each other.
  5. But there’s a potential for nonelite, anonymous users to succeed.
  6. Discussion tends to happen around news events that are already being covered.
  7. So what remains special about social media is that nonelite users control distribution.
  8. Participating more in political discussion online doesn’t necessarily increase political knowledge.
  9. The huge effect social media have in elections, then, is that they allow nonelites to frame and distribute content made by elites. For better or for worse.

The presentation then shifted to David Almacy.

He started with an older example of online media, the Barney Cam. Almacy told us that during George W. Bush’s presidency, they strapped a camera to their dog Barney and let him give a tour of the White House during the holiday season. The video was published on the White House website and distributed to the media. On the website, the video only got 7 million hits. This seemed low, but they realized that because they distributed the video across various media channels, these hits were not taken into account. In actuality, the video got 30 million hits across the board.

Almacy also discussed different kinds of media, including social. Society focuses on transmedia storytelling where each type of media (mainstream, hybrid, owned and social) works with the others to provide us with information.

“If content is king, community is queen,” says Almacy. In other words, while creating content is extremely important for any campaign, it is essential to create a community where you can create conversation around your content.

In the 2012 presidential election, there is much more user-generated content than campaign-created content. This is why social media is essential. It houses conversation.

This post is the third in a series from the 2012 PRSSA National Conference. Be sure to read my previous post about media training.

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