While social media offers numerous possibilities within the political sphere, it also brings with it many probable pitfalls. A candidate can just as easily amass an uplifting following as he or she can dig their own grave. One misguided tweet, one awkward moment captured on film and released on YouTube or even one angry former employee with a blog and a campaign on an upward swing can plummet in an instant. Time and time again we’ve all seen such political downfalls play out in the media.

Never before has information been so easily accessible. While this is incredibly positive for voter education, it also sheds light on many things candidates don’t want in the public realm. Voters can now see all the conflicting messages and behaviors a candidate has participated in. Just as televised debates forever changed campaigns, the Internet, and social media specifically, is altering the political landscape.

But it’s not all gloom and doom. Although some Americans still lack the access and education to effectively participate in the political engagement taking place online, social media is affording many a political voice they didn’t have before. Just as the network cuts production and distribution cuts, it also allows an endless variety of viewpoints. Social media is allowing groups to come together to discuss, debate, contribute, learn and engage in political discourse.

Interaction varies and obviously not all interaction is equal. Where some candidates and groups have been able to successfully use interaction as process to encourage and ultimately engage voters in two-way communication, not all have been so lucky. Interaction as product is a pitfall not unique to politics, many businesses and media groups have seen this as an easy initial answer only to regret their approach later. Interaction as product only gets you so far – if you want true supporters that keep coming back – you have to have more than just surface level appeal, that like all novelties, quickly wears thin.

As this next presidential election shapes up, it will be interesting to see which social media approaches and pitfalls will decide the election. Will sound bites and slogans prevail as in the past, or will new factors influence the masses? Will candidates value Twitter, Facebook and YouTube more than town-halls, Face the Nation and yogurt-shop visits? With online spaces already the new political battleground and social media the ultimate swing state, what will future elections look like?

Advertisements