By LANE BLACKMER
Capital News Service
LANSING—Political candidates in Michigan are increasingly using social media to lure potential voters and share tidbits of information.
One such medium is Facebook, which now boasts more than 500 million users, said Facebook.
The website that once was open only to users with e-mail addresses ending in “edu” now has an average user aged 44, a study by the National Association if State Chief Information Officers said. The study said 61 percent of users are 35 or older.
Other popular social media include Twitter, whose users average 39 years old, according to the survey, and YouTube, which did not have an average age listed.
Michigan is among a dozen states the study identified as “moving full speed ahead” in social media.
State political candidates began using social media seriously in the 2008 election.
Professor Cliff Lampe of the Michigan State University Department of Telecommunications, Information Studies and Media, said he’s been studying the use of social media in politics since early 2005.
“It started full-force in 2004,” he said. “It was really actively used by both parties in 2008.”
More recently, he’s seen a trend of social media use in campaigns where candidates link to news sources and pull people into looking at websites and blogs.
“They really see it as a way to micro-broadcast,” Lampe said.
Senate candidate Chuck Fellows, D-Green Oak Township, said that as a nonincumbent politician, he sought campaign advice from a friend and got a three-word answer: “Internet, Internet, Internet.”
“I use the Web and my website as a major communications device and a major vehicle in communicating my issues to the public,” he said.
Fellows links articles to his Facebook page and website and creates video blogs on YouTube.
Fellows is running against Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, who has Facebook and Twitter and Todd Richardson, Libertarian-Brighton, has Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.
The importance of social media in his campaign, Fellows said, is to answer voters’ “whys” and “to allow a teachable moment.”
Rep. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, a Senate candidate, uses Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
“It’s been very helpful in reaching a section of the population that we normally don’t reach,” he said.
Proos said he uses social media to help people understand his policy positions by linking to information sources and to personalize himself by discussing personal matters and posting family pictures.
“I think perhaps they’re informed in snippets,” he said.
Proos’ opponent, Scott Elliott, D-Benton Harbor, doesn’t have a campaign website.
Lampe said he doesn’t expect tweets and status updates, known as sound-bite politics, to increase political awareness or get more voters to the polls because a quick Google search can produce the same information.
“Swaying votes is more of the incentive,” Lampe said.
Fellows, however, said sound-bite politics is what he’s trying to avoid and that’s why he isn’t on Twitter.
“It gets easy to make things trivial, to simplify things,” he said.
Proos said only time will tell whether social media increases voter participation, because this is only the second time social media has been used extensively in Michigan political campaigns.
Lampe said one positive effect is that it’s much easier for voters to see information. However, because a candidate’s followers or “friends” tend to belong to the same political party, they don’t get information arguing against the candidate’s viewpoint.
“I think the real value is a citizen-to-citizen group,” he said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.
By LANE BLACKMER