New Media Tools in Political Campaigns
Time has proven that new technology has changed the way that individuals used to carry out their daily businesses. One great example is the change in the way that political campaigns used to be run. In the article New Media & Society, Cristian Vaccari provides an overview about the way that traditional political campaigns were run and their transformation due to innovated social media tools, something that Farrel and Norris called ‘postmodern campaigning’ (pp648). Vaccari’s article provides information up to the 2004 presidential campaign. However, even thought this article provides evidence that campaigns have changed from 1996 to 2004 thanks to the new social media tools, these changes cannot be compared to the ones provided by the current 2008 presidential campaign. This campaign is using new social media tools not available back in 1996 and 2004 like Facebook , YouTube and are using the geo-targeting search engine like Google. These new internet tools have radically changed the way campaigns were run and this empowers both the individual and collective voice (Shifman, D. 2008)
Vaccari states that campaigns usually adapt to new technology. He mentions that television used to be the central point for campaigning. However, with the arrival of new technology, campaigns have been decentralized thanks to internet tools. For example the number of presidential candidates’ websites grew from 1996 to 2004. For example the number of websites in 2004 doubled in comparison to the number of websites in 2000. In terms of websites, CNN.com stated that “there’s definitely more activity than four years ago” (Shields, M. 2008). In this presidential campaign Obama is more popular with web surfers because his followers are younger. Barack Obama’s Website visitors market share is about 65% compared with 9% from John McCain. (Shiffman d. 2008). However, this doesn’t mean that more web searches mean more possibilities of wining. For example in the Election ‘8 Web Ads Flat and 1.0 article an observer states that “The Internet has never elected a candidate, but TV has”. This last statement is true so far, but this may change on November 4, 2008.
In addition, Vaccari adds that during the 2000 election campaign, online tools were used to accommodate their supporters and in 2004 these tools were used to mobilize voters and volunteers. However, during this 2008 presidential campaign internet tools have been used not only to mobilize and organize supporters and volunteers, but to provide a platform for people to share their opinion and produce content.
Vaccari concludes that even though the internet has strengthen democratization by providing an environment that enhances citizen participation and campaign mobilization, the impact of internet tools must be assessed in light of outputs both online and offline. There is no doubt that tools like Facebook (social network), YouTube (video) and Google’s geo-targeting tools (search engine) have changed the way that political campaigns were run. All these news tools had opened a door for the audience to become a direct participant of the 2008 presidential campaign. The audience not only has access to an infinite medium of information throughout search engines, social networks and videos, but they can also contribute by giving their opinion and produce content. Thanks to Internet tools campaigns are not one way communication as they were before, now is a two way communication shifting this way the power toward people.
Pros and cons of using these new social media tools.
According to John Garment, Barack Obama partnered with Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook to develop a web presence to use the social networking that helped engage younger voters. However, the model that has been implemented in Facebook can be used for purposes of branding, this way taking away the original intention and transforming it into a marketing campaign. A recent study on global media trends by Yahoo drew a conclusion about the youth market as advertising channel become more personal. It also states that the collective skills of these local partners helped the “Obama brand” connect with its audience ad raise capital in record proportions. “Communications will need to build brand relationships among various consumer groups” (Garment J. 2008). “The fact that Mr. Obama behaves like a well-defined brand probably has something to do with why advertising and marketing creative types are attracted to him more so than other candidates” (Parekh R. 2008).
According to Albert L. May states that online videos flooding in the Internet in 2008 election provides a continuation of technological transformation of the way Americans receive their political news and how journalists cover campaigns. “The campaign has become an even more visual event as pictures crowd out words.” The YouTubification democratize citizen journalist who make their own mash-up videos. Videos produced by candidates can also be found in YouTube. The impulse of making videos has increased to use the Internet to bypass conventional journalistic coverage, providing more information material for viewers/voters. However, videos can be manipulated by content producers to try to change the point of view of YouTube viewers/voters. New media enables complete strangers to connect over common beliefs, desires or interests and together they can create winners and losers. (Shiffman D. 2008). Shiffman also provides statistics about the usage of YouTube for Obama and McCain: YouTube viewers for Barack Obama are 1-4 million with ratings of 4 starts and Youtube viewers for John McCain are 200,000-300,000 with ratings of 2-3 starts.
The Advertising Age article, states that John McCain may not know how to use e-mail, but his campaign knows how to use search. “Search has proven to be the exception, with nearly all the candidates active. Lately, McCain has been more aggressive than Obama-5.4 million in May versus Obama’s 1.8, per Nelsen Online –going so far as to run ads tied to searches for “Iraq War” and “gas Prices.” Candidates take advantage of some of the more sophisticated search-targeting tools.” For example, type “mortgage crises” and one of the links takes you to a McCain’s website addressing the housing issue. The word “election” will take you to a link to a McCain’s contribution page. On the other hand, if you type “economic crisis” it provides a headline “McCain is Out of Touch” and a text “Sign up to learn about Obama’s plan for change we need with the economy.” (Shields M. 2008). Peter Greenberger, who runs the political advertising vertical for Google, said that both candidates are using geo-targeting to spend the bulk of their search dollars in states where they have a chance of winning electoral votes. The usage of search engine provides a way for the audience to look for candidates’ information. However, as Google’s search engine uses a geo-targeting model, candidates may use it to manipulate the information available -as top choices- to their benefit against their opponents.
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