COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) — The major-party candidates for governor of Indiana this year say using social media to reach voters has become just as effective as a handshake.
Campaign pros say major social media sites Facebook and Twitter have the advantage of providing two-way communication between candidates and the public and are an especially good way to connect with young voters.
Facebook now claims 900 million active members, and Twitter about 300 million. Then-Sen. Barack Obama famously used social media to mobilize young voters during his 2008 presidential campaign.
That’s not to say that social media sites are the be-all and end-all of political communication.
Kristina Sheeler, an associate professor of communications studies at IUPUI, said that reaching all audiences requires candidates still to put in the hard work of public appearances and to use traditional advertising.
Social media just provide more tools to get the message out, particularly to young people, Sheeler said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, the six-term congressman from Columbus who is running unopposed for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, said he viewed social networking sites as unique ways to reach people who share a common vision or interest.
“With social media, there’s an opportunity to create communities, to join the team and keep informed,” Pence said. “To me, it is about building that team.”
Pence and his campaign staff use Facebook to post content from photos and thoughts from the campaign trail to well-wishes for the Pacers to call-outs for yard sign requests. And they post often. Pence’s Twitter account shares similar content with some differences, such as (hash)HoosierFactFriday, a weekly tweet featuring Indiana trivia.
Megan Jacobs, communications director for Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg, a former speaker of the Indiana House, said social media sites engage voters because they provide more of a “two-way street.”
On Gregg’s Twitter account, which is updated more frequently than his Facebook page, Gregg’s campaign staff posts updates about campaign stops and political issues in the news and tweets a lot of replies to supporters.
“We can use it to interact with people at a more intimate level than with the website or just a press release,” Jacobs said.
Sheeler said it’s that interaction that makes social media so special.
If people share something a candidate posts on Twitter or if a candidate responds to people’s comments on his or her Facebook page, that back-and-forth creates a conversation and builds relationships with voters, Sheeler said.
Pence said that in between campaign stops, he routinely reads comments and posts his own on Facebook — whether it’s an encouraging word about a political issue or a personal anecdote.
A recent favorite post of Pence’s was about his visit to the Hoosier Horse Fair.
“I’m kind of a horseback riding enthusiast,” he said. Posting about the fair “was a way of saying thanks and a way of saying hello to supporters out there.”
Facebook makes using social media easy, said Pence, who signs his posts “-MikePence”. He said he usually leaves updating Twitter to his campaign staff.
Social media sites also provide a simple way for voters to communicate with the candidates.
Brandon Waite, an assistant professor in the political science department at Ball State University and an Emerging Media Fellow at the university, noted that in the days before social media, voters had to write or call their representatives. Now, however, they can pose questions directly to candidates in a public forum.
As a result, political candidates — and other public figures — are more accessible than ever, Waite said.
Jacobs said Gregg himself doesn’t yet post to Facebook or Twitter, but he does email photos and information to members of his campaign staff who manage the social networking accounts.
For example, Gregg recently emailed Jacobs a photo of a Civil War monument in Winchester, where the candidate had given a speech. That photo wouldn’t typically be sent with a press release, Jacobs said, but social media presented a great way to share the image with supporters.