When it comes to the use of social media for political campaigning, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, provided the case study in the 2008 election. Using services like Facebook and Twitter to rally and organize his supporters, he was able to run a grassroots campaign that hadn't really been seen before.
After he was sworn in, it looked like social media would continue to play a role in his administration but, for obvious reasons, the President significantly turned down his personal use of social channels. Recently he's been trying to turn it on again, but will he be successful this time around? His recent social media usage hints that the President may have a more challenging time using social media to his benefit in 2012.
In an attempt to encourage citizens to call their congressmen over the debt ceiling debate, the president turned to Twitter. The New York Daily News has the details:
Obama asked Americans Friday to call, email, and tweet Congressional leaders to “keep the pressure on” lawmakers in hopes of reaching a bipartisan deal to raise the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt limit ahead of an Aug. 2 deadline.
Obama’s campaign staff used the @BarackObama Twitter account to post the Twitter handles of tweeting GOP leaders – state by state, tweet by tweet.
“Tweet at your Republican legislators and urge them to support a bipartisan compromise to the debt crisis,” Obama’s campaign staff wrote on his account before launching the day-long Twitter campaign.
The effectiveness of the campaign remains to be seen. But what we do know: President Obama's tweetstorm appears to have caused him to lose some 40,000 Twitter followers in a single day. And the campaign generated a lot of negative chatter. Many considered the president's tweets to be spam, and some even went so far as to call them a sign of "desperation." At least some of the criticism highlighted by the Post appeared to be leveled by the president's own supporters.
Obviously, blasting out a bevy of tweets was probably not a good idea. President or not, most Twitter users don't want to be flooded with tweets from a single person. But the bigger question about Obama's use of social media is this: is it possible to turn social media on and off as you need it and still be successful?
There are plenty of good reasons President Obama isn't tweeting night and day. He is, after all, the leader of the United States. In other words, he has a lot on his plate and realistically there is no way he could have been expected to maintain his pre-presidency levels of social media activity once he took office. At the same time, his Twitter faux pas hints at the possibility that using social media only when you need others to do something for you in the immediate term is a flawed social media strategy.
Social media is about "engagement." That means different things to different people, but at the end of the day, the key to effective engagement is that everyone involved feels that he or she is getting something out of the interaction. In other words, if you want social media to work for you, you have to provide value to the people you're engaging with. You can't simply expect to leave a conversation and return only when you have something to say.
That, however, appears to be what President Obama is trying to do. Will he be able to make it work? Only time will tell.
For the rest of us mere mortals, it's important to remember that the 'relationships' we form through social channels should be maintained and nurtured just like any other. Because even if one of the most powerful individuals in the world proves capable of using social media effectively only when it suits his needs, most individuals and businesses don't have the same luxury.