By Manuel Feldmann, Illinois Community Ambassador
There is no doubt that we live in an age of communication. In our interconnected world, almost every one of us is constantly accessible, writing messages or surfing through the almost endless worlds of the Internet. Many companies, organizations and institutions already benefit from new communication opportunities like social media for their marketing, sales and customer service.
And even politicians have more or less discovered the possibilities of modern communication for their daily work. Many of them are already using digital channels to communicate or to support their Political Communication activities. However, the full potential of social media is not being used by politicians yet. In Germany, for example, interactions with voters via social media channels are still very rare in some cases, especially when you compare it with other political systems. Therefore, I would like to highlight four arguments that show the advantages of social media for political communication.
1. The Mobilization of Young Voters
Social media is one of the most important channels, which allows political institutions to reach young voters during an election campaign. Because the younger generations dominate social media, it enables highly targeted communication with them. But the bigger challenge is to adapt political communication in a way that younger audiences will feel addressed. The mediation of political content must be designed to be attractive for young people, and it must be guided by the rules of infotainment. That means that news or content should be communicated in a more entertaining way than in a formal tone.
In addition, there is also a chance to overcome political apathy. You can define this as the loss of interest in politics by people. This is an issue which is very widespread in Germany. Several parties have lost members in the past 25 years. And the reason for this is not only because people are not interested in politics itself, it is also reasoned by the way politics is communicated to the public in some cases. Therefore, social media can help to improve the image of politics and to present it in a more modern and closer way to people.
2. Two-Way Communication and the “Digital Democracy”
Even the best content is useless if another big advantage of “social” is not considered: the interaction and two-way communication with followers and target groups. In politics, this not only applies especially for the external communication by politicians and parties during election campaigns but also within a legislature.
While classical PR-tools, such as press releases, sponsorships or public events, only allow a limited two-way-communication with the voter, social media allows for communication in real-time. In theory, millions of people can be reached with only one post. And with an improved two-way-communication, even the democratic idea itself can be lead to a new dimension. Experts call this the “Digital Democracy”. This means, among other things, that the user can exert a direct influence through communication and interaction with the political representatives via digital channels. For example, a Member of Parliament could host his/her Q&A sessions with the citizens of his constituency on Twitter. Or his/her social media team would be available for communication on the various social media profiles. This can’t be bad for democracy, which is by definition: “The government by the people.”
3. The Psychological Effect of Social Media
Such an interaction with the voter can also have a kind of psychological effect, which could improve the relation between the politician and the citizens. There is no need for scientific studies to underline this thesis. Anyone who has ever posted a comment under a video on YouTube or has participated in a discussion on Facebook knows that if the profile owner responds, you feel perceived as important. Through engaging in this way, a politician or a political party can produce a feeling of mutual acceptance through interaction with the voter. Reactions like “WOW! This politician answered me on Facebook! Awesome, I’m going to vote for him or her,” would probably not be uncommon. An example is Barack Obama’s Twitter account. The US president follows back about 635,000 Twitter users. And to be true: Isn’t it great to be followed by the president of the United States on Twitter?
4. Overcoming Editorial Barriers
Social media can also support press and media work when it is possible to overcome editorial barriers. Politicians are no longer dependent on whether an editor classifies a specific topic as newsworthy or not. They now can set their own topics and share it with thousands of people. For instance YouTubers show how successful this can be. Let’s Play channels, where Youtubers play computer games, or other YouTube channels about fashion and lifestyle topics reach millions of people usually without making PR via classical media. Viral campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge are also a good example for how powerful social can be.
We have seen four arguments for why social media can be very useful for politics. But we have also seen that in some cases social media’s full potential is not reached yet. But one thing seems certain: Without the adjustment to digital structures and its rules, no politician will be able to win an election in the near future.