Political candidates up their social networking

Social networking usage by political candidates increased over the midterm election cycle, with candidates reaching out to voters through Twitter and Facebook, a group of experts on social media said during a panel discussion in the Jack Morton Auditorium Monday.

But despite the increased use of these social networking tools, all five of the event’s panelists said candidates might not be using the sites effectively.

“Very few congressional candidates are doing a good job with it,” said Matthew Hindman, an assistant professor in the School of Media and Public Affairs. “The median candidate has about 200 Twitter followers, but they have to keep it updated constantly.”

Adam Conner – an alumnus who now works for Facebook – agreed, saying that before candidates move their entire media efforts online, many have to learn how to use the websites the same way that their constituents do.

“There are two aspects to how candidates use social media,” Conner said. “One is candidates who understand how to use it on a personal level. But there’s also authenticity, and we still have a lot of work to do there.”

Mindy Finn, an online campaign strategist for the website EngageDC, said that while politicians have a lot to learn about connecting to voters online, the Internet is only going to become a bigger tool for politicians in the future.

“In 2004 you had everyone trying to understand blogs, in 2006 YouTube was just starting, and in 2008 blogging and YouTube were already being used, but it was the beginning of social media and Facebook,” said Finn, who also received a master’s in political management at GW. “Now in 2009 and 2010, using all of that is just a default.”

Sam Arora, a Democratic candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates who spoke on the panel, said that his campaign uses Facebook on a regular basis in various ways.

“I went door to door to talk to people, and if I had good conversations, I sometimes friended them afterward,” Arora said. “It began a conversation that I hope proved useful.”

Students who attended the event, which was broadcast live on CSPAN, said that the discussion was directly related to their studies and their actions as young voters.

“My internship actually deals with political advertising,” said Alexis Murray, a junior majoring in political communication. “Social media plays a big factor in the future and the kinds of jobs we’ll get.”

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