How Social Media Will Shape the 2012 Presidential Election

Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Ric...

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The 1960 Presidential Election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was a turning point for how campaigns would be run from that point on.  Televisions were becoming more common in households, and the first televised Presidential Debate took place.

Heading into the debate, Nixon held a slight lead over Kennedy.  Nixon was campaigning hard, and insisted on doing so until just before the event.  He was run down, and refused to have any makeup applied.  By contrast, Kennedy rested, prepared, and even sported a  tan.

Nearly 70 million people tuned into the debate.  While Kennedy looked calm, youthful, and full of life, Nixon appeared pale, unshaven, and showed visual signs of fatigue from being on the campaign trail.  After the debate, polls showed that the majority of those who watched the debate on television thought that Kennedy had won.  On the other hand, the majority who had listened to the debate on radio thought that Nixon had won.  Unfortunately for Nixon, far fewer people were simply listening.  Technology was changing quickly, and Kennedy took advantage of the fact that more people were consuming their news and entertainment through a new medium.

Sound familiar?

With a majority of the population taking to social media, it will be imperative for Presidential candidates to learn from the mistakes of Nixon.  In the 2008 election, Barack Obama leveraged the power of social media to catapult himself into the White House.  This time around, we’re seeing candidates taking cues from the Obama campaign.

Instead of knocking on neighborhood doors, they’re trying to connect with followers across the country on Twitter.  Instead of holding a press conference to announce their candidacy, they’re creating YouTube videos with the hope that they go viral.  Instead of asking volunteers to pass out flyers, they’re asking them to get people to “like” their campaign’s Facebook page.

The candidates aren’t the only ones taking cues from the 2008 election.  Media organizations are placing much more of an emphasis on event coverage through Twitter, Tumblr, and blogs.  Even if you weren’t able to tune in to the CNN GOP Debate, you could have followed live updates easily from any of these sources, and given your reaction to your ccommunity of followers.

Times are certainly changing.  The campaign tactics that helped Bill Clinton win the presidency will not work as well today.  If a candidate chooses to ignore the fact that social media is one of the best ways to connect with voters, the result could be similar to what Richard Nixon experienced.

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