Since the invention of western style democracy, there has been the concept of grassroots outreach. While not always called that, the dissemination of information to voters on a personal level has been a cornerstone of electoral politics. For centuries in America, political public relations required having local party offices that organized voters, handed out materials on policy and platforms, and did hand shaking and baby kissing that we are all so familiar with. While much of that still persists, there has been a measured change in how political groups reach out to the public.
Times Have Changed
Even though the advent of traditional media sources like television and radio allowed a candidate to speak directly to people in their own homes, there was still an inability to really reach out to everyone and organize on a large scale without army-like manpower and resources. Much of that changed with the growth of social media and its ability to be used by mobile devices.
Today, almost everyone is wired into social media sources like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others that can be used for a myriad of purposes, especially in social and political organizing.
Connect & Engage With People Like Never Before
The immediacy of widely disseminated information through social media sources has been a boon in the public relations field. From local political campaigns for mayor, to protest movements spanning a continent, to facilitating protests for wholesale change in dictatorships across the world, the interconnectedness of social media has created a great outlet for individuals to share causes and find other like-minded people to join them.
Studies have shown that people are most open to information shared with them by people they trust. When a friend posts a story on Facebook, it generates an additional level of attachment because it’s your friend who posted it. Add to that the open ability to comment on the post and start a dialogue, and you have the recipe for political engagement without having to leave your house. These tools have been very effective in moving political action over the last six years.
The 2008 Obama campaign used social media quite successfully in energizing a base of young voters, keeping them interconnected on news issues and getting them more active in politics than any decade since the 1970s. Twitter was used to its fullest extent during the “Arab Spring,” wherein countries that had restricted Internet access, protesters tweeted to keep fellow demonstrators informed about what actions the government was taking in the streets, where to organize for marches, and even how to move medical staffs to assist those who were injured.
It’s Just The Beginning
The social media revolution has guaranteed that the public all around the world is staying better informed about what is happening, how to organize, and where to connect with others who believe in the same causes. Many groups have made social media a powerful public relations tool for fundraising, community organizing, and outreach. It would appear that the influence of Facebook and Twitter on the political landscape will only grow in the coming years.