Online social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Hi5, Twitter and hundreds of others allow users to create a personal profile and then connect with old and new friends. Once connected to these friends, they can form groups based on shared interests; they can share photos, videos and blogs; and they can send each other messages.
Online social networking began as a Net Generation-only obsession, but has expanded exponentially in both popularity and the diversity of users. MySpace, for instance, used to be mostly for teens and young musicians. By August 2006, however, more than 40 percent of MySpace users were between 35 and 54 years old.
The vast majority of 2008 presidential candidates have profiles on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, flickr, del.icio.us and more. Their profile pages are gathering spaces for supporters (and detractors). Voters post public messages of encouragement or comment on the issues. They respond to and comment on each other’s messages, starting long threads of conversations that can last for days.
With online social networks, campaign communications is no longer a one-way street from candidate to voter. In Web 2.0 lingo, peer-to-peer or voter-to-voter communication is equally important [source: eyeon08.com]. These sites are also a powerful way for the candidates to learn what the voters are talking about and respond quickly.
For example, the Mitt Romney presidential campaign has hired a team of young campaign workers to monitor social networking sites for potentially harmful rumors or misinformation. When a video appeared on YouTube of Romney expressing his support for abortion rights 13 years ago, his campaign immediately posted its own video explaining how Romney’s stance on the issue has evolved over the years [source: Online NewsHour].
In a rush to capitalize on the popularity of online social networking, many 2008 presidential candidates have also launched online social networks on their individual campaign Web sites. Voters can register with a campaign site and become a member. As a member, you have access to social networking and communications tools such as:
- Posting your own blog
- Joining or creating groups with other users
- Finding and contacting other supporters in your area
- Finding or hosting events in your area
- Starting your own fund-raising campaign
- Posting photos and videos
In addition, the two major U.S. political parties have launched their own social networks, the Democrats’ PartyBuilder and the Republicans’ MyGOP. Both sites offer features and functionality similar to those of the individual candidate sites.
On the next page, we'll talk about other Web site campaign technology.