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April 13, 2011

Nearly four years ago now, President Obama launched his campaign for presidency to a packed stadium in Illinois. While this public appearance is crucial, it may have been just as important as the online appearance that it made on his website and across social networks. Now as presidential candidates gear up for the next election, social media is becoming an increasingly important component of political campaigns.

A great example of this new trend is how President Obama kicked off his re-election campaign -- via an online video. It shows how important social media has become for politicians and it is a tip of the hat to the public, which is most accessible online. Even though Obama is known for being technologically savvy -- the Democrats in general have been leading in online media since Howard Dean launched his campaign for presidency in 2000 -- it isn't only the Democrats who are turning to social media for political success. Former Massachusetts Republican Governor Mitt Romney announced his presidential bid in an online video as well.


This represents a change in voter activity as well. To become informed about political candidates, voters are looking online -- following their candidates Twitter feeds, facebook pages and the buzz written about them on blogs and online news sources. However, it is also increasingly important for candidates to manage their online reputations. If they aren't careful, they can end up in reputation management disasters like GOP candidate Carly Fiorina who released a YouTube video portraying an opponent a sheep. This caused an unnecessary fall out for her campaign and turned her campaign into a mudslinging contest and a reputation management disaster -- something most serious candidates don't want to be associated with. 

Donations are also increasingly coming from online. Instead of the fancy, expensive Washington dinners of the past, big money is being raised online. In 2000, John McCain raised $500,000 online in 24 hours, setting a new bar for online success. In 2008, Obama also used social media to raise large sums of money online -- couping the democratic nature of the internet with the importance of grassroots democracy. Obama also used SMS and text messaging to get his supporters to donate to his campaign and announced his VP nomination via SMS.

As we gear up for the 2012 campaign season, it will be increasingly important for candidates to not only use social media and other online sources for public relations, but also to raise money and engage their supporters in planning fundraising parties, knocking on doors and contributing to the campaign with their time. Over the past few years, it has become increasingly easy for supporters to sign up to volunteer online, an integral part of any political campaign, and in this coming election season we're sure to see more creative ways for people to contribute.


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