Politicians leverage social media for campaign clout

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Social media has played a significant role in politics for the past decade, experts say.

Whether a politician wants to engage with voters, relay important information, or simply stay up-to-date on current events, social media has allowed tasks like these to take much less time.

Politicians can now be instructed on how to use their social media accounts by professional digital consultants to reach as many voters as possible, said Steve Mitchell, president of Mitchell Research and Communications, an East Lansing political consultanting firm. And social media will continue to change politics because the way politicians communicate to voters is changing.

Research by Pew Research, an organization that studies U.S. politics, journalism and media looks at the breakdown of Facebook users and voter turnout. Millennials have the largest presence on Facebook and the number of them who voted in the last presidential election has increased. Millennials are beginning to surpass the number of Boomers as the majority of voters.

Amy Libka, a strategic communication crafter at the Change Media Group in Lansing, said that social media is a great way to reach voters at a low cost or no cost at all. The digital associate said that she advises candidates to be active on social media on a daily basis.

“I advise politicians to be active on social media for maybe a few times a week to a few times a day, just to make sure everything stays up to date and so you look legitimate,” Libka said.

Aaron Stephens, who was elected to East Lansing City Council last November, said he believes every elected official should use social media more.  Stephens, 21, said he tries to make sure he is posting to inform the community and he appreciates when people express their opinions to him online.

“Social media is one of the best ways to stay connected with everybody and getting everybody’s opinion is very hard to do in person,” Stephens said. “So using social media is that kind of bridge to hear every perspective.”

Dave Doyle, an executive at Marketing Research Group in Lansing, said one of the only downsides of social media becoming more integrated into politics is that some people may be more callous than they would be in person.

“You have a lot of people who will say things on Facebook or Twitter that they would never do face-to-face to a candidate or any other individual,” Doyle said. “It is a way for some people to just make attacks.”

While Doyle said he is concerned when it comes to users making attacks, Mitchell says he thinks social media will continue to have an increasing importance in politics because the way that we communicate is changing. Mitchell said it could even make the difference in the outcome of an election.

“If both candidates have the same budget and other components are equal but one has a better social media presence, then it could have an impact,” Mitchell said.

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