I Admit It: TV Is Still Important In Elections

Read Write Web, a regular read here at Grassroots Online, has an interesting article on a new poll from Pew Research Center that tells us that voters still are not getting their election information from social media sources:

“[T]he poll found that few of us are relying on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for election information. While 25% say they regularly learn something about the election from the Internet, tha’s almost unchanged from 2008, when 24% said they regularly got election information from the Internet.”

According to Pew, voters in the US are still getting their information on campaign issues, debates and updates primarily from cable news programs and their local news. Assuming that these trends generally hold true for both the US and Canada, what does this mean for the social media practitioner in the political arena? A few things:

Good News: Internet Is A Growing As A Source

The one bright spot out of all of this is that more people than ever are getting their information on upcoming elections from the Internet. In fact, according to the Pew poll, those numbers are up from 9% in 2000 to 25% in 2012. While it still ranks behind news programming, it’s not that far behind (25% vs 32%).

Further, while voters may not use social media as a main source of information (more on that below), they are online – which gives your campaign an opportunity to reach out them via AdWords and other online advertising platforms to drive them to your microsite, Facebook page, etc. The fact that they are already at a computer means they are accessible. Important note: more people (33%) in the 30-49 demo uses the Internet as a source than the 18-29 bracket (29%).

Bad News: Social Media Is A Tiny Subsection

Of course, the bad news is that social media sources such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the destination for a very small subset of potential voters (6%, 2% and 3% respectively). What that means is that very few undecided voters are visiting your social media assets organically. That is just a reality your campaign needs to come to grips with: only a small fraction of your total potential supporters are coming to your sites to be sold on why they should vote for you.

That being said, between the big three, over 11% of the population are using social media channels to gather information on campaigns: as much as Sunday morning talk shows like Meet The Press or CTV’s Question Period. This number will only grow over time. But your content should reflect the reality that right now, most people visiting your social media accounts are already supporting you.

The Newscast Is Still The Audience

This will come as a welcome affirmation from political communicators, but it may be surprising that a social media guy is saying this: the newscast is still a vital platform to reach voters. Pretty much everyone polled by Pew indicated that they get their election information from television. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for your online campaign – it just means your designs need to take that into account.

What I mean by that is when you are designing a microsite, an online video, a marketing campaign or any other social media initiative, one of the (many) questions you have to ask yourself is: how will this play on TV? You need to make it as easy as possible to translate offline viewers into online visitors. Sure, design should still largely be based on how your online audience interacts with your content via their browser (and increasing on their smartphone) but don’t discount the value in working to find ways to engage the much wider TV audience.

Think Of Twitter As An Incubator

I believe that social media cannot and should not stand alone in any campaign. It must work in tangent with other departments to ensure maximum impact and reach. This is not a zero sum game. The research from Pew drives this point home. Traditional media is still a huge factor in reaching potential voters. Both social media and traditional media need to be integrated across the board to capture as big of an audience as you can.

A great example of working together is using Twitter to help shape the news that ultimately end up on television. In the US, we already know that the Presidental campaigns are using Twitter to directly engage reporters and help shape stories as they are written. This, of course, is not an entirely new phenomenon. A report from our friends at Navigator Ltd on the recent Ontario election illustrates that Twitter is largely a conversation between campaign, reporters and pundits. But it is crucial to understand the important role Twitter plays throughout the news cycle.

Further, it would be folly to underestimate how many stories, issues or reports initially began with social media and grew into a larger story covered by the mainstream press. Social media can be and often is an excellent incubator for specific issues or initiatives. The idea is to make an effort to aim for the wider television audience. There are some concepts that translate well and others that don’t.

So yes, I admit that television is still the big game in town. But that does not mean that social media is any less important. If anything, the Pew data tells us that the Internet is a legitimate source of election information and reminds us how important it is to ensure social media factors into your earned media strategy, just as earned media should factor into your social media strategy.

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