The Dangerous, Revolutionary Mix of Social Media and Politics


I stumbled across a recent post that talked about the implications of social media gone awry in Britain. On March 22, the Conservative Party in the U.K. launched an agressive Twitter campaign against Prime Minister Gordon Brown, using the hashtag “#cashgordon.” Below is a graph compiled by Meg Pickard that shows the trend of the hashtag.

Anatomy of a Hashtag

As it turns out, the idea was jacked from a U.S. website run by an anti-healthcare lobbyist. Just as the campaign began to peak, it was discovered by the U.K.’s Liberal Party supporters, who in-turn used the same hashtag to the effect that the website was taken offline.

A shining example of social media implementation was during Barack Obama’s run for the U.S. Presidency. His team helped developed a grassroots strategy; they were very successful in spreading their message across the web using Twitter and other social channels. The result: an Obama victory. This grassroots movement helped create a massive following, which further aided with fundraising and as a barrier against opponent mudslinging.

Another recent example of successful political messaging through social media would be the election of Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who was victorious in the special election to fill the seat of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. This Brown campaign utilized YouTube, Facebook, iPhone apps, Twitter, and strategic hashtags to deliver a “homegrown” message to the people. Video was the key driver for Brown. Thus, YouTube became a major platform for his plans to become Senator. The result of that campaign was half a million hits in the weeks leading up to the vote, while his opponent mustered a mere 51,000 hits. Needless to say, Brown won in a landslide victory for the seat previously “owned” by the Kennedys.

What is the true potential of political use of social media channels? With the almost real-time transfer of information, the use of polls, and other measurement tools, one might think that voters could take control of lawmaking decisions, rather than decisions being made based on special interests. The revolutionary possibility of social media leading to better constituent representation is very real and not that difficult to conceive.

If lawmakers honestly care about the interests of their constituents they would use social channels to realize the true concerns of the people they represent. Unfortunately, I don’t believe most politicians would ever want such transparency. But I’ll continue to hope for the best.

Politicians take note: Do not approach social media lightly. Be prepared with a sound strategy, which should include a clear idea of your target audience and the message to be shared. Otherwise, expect to see yourselves associated with the hashtag “#fail.”


Brad Barker is a seasoned interactive marketing professional, specializing in SEO and social media. He currently serves as SEO and Social Media Editor at AREA203 Marketing.

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