If you're hoping to win the Facebook or Twitter popularity contest, it might be time to take a look at some of the upcoming election's candidates' social media sites and kiss those dreams goodbye.
"We're seeing it across the country," said Mark Perkins, the independent candidate in Tulsa's November 2009 mayoral race. "It's a phenomenon that has come of age over the past few years. It's become just another part of the process."
Two years after President Barack Obama's social media campaign garnered attention for its success, candidates for the upcoming state election are now including updates, uploads, tweets and tags in their campaign strategy with hopes to find the same sort of success.
Phame Marketing, a full-service marketing agency in Tulsa, has assisted with campaign messages and placed media for a number of candidates this year, from the Tea Party's favored candidate in the gubernatorial primaries, Randy Brogdon, to San Francisco's John Dennis, who hopes to unseat Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in November. Ron Owens, CEO and founder of Phame Marketing, said social media is now imperative for candidates hitting the campaign trail.
"Fundraising is always a problem and candidates always have a limited budget," Owens said. "Any opportunity to get their message out for free they should take advantage of. Social media gives you the largest free audience in existence because of the size of networks."
Perkins understands this concept well. While running in the mayoral race in 2009 with a budget of about $90,000 compared to other candidates' campaign budgets of $1.3 million or almost $600,000, Perkins turned to sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for help.
"Initially the Internet and social media were used as a way to get the message out without spending a lot of money," he said. "In the end, we ended up producing two commercials and circulating them on YouTube and social media sites."
After a boost of funds came in toward the end of his campaign, Perkins was able to buy airtime for these commercials. However, he said the use of social media sites for commercials and updates in the beginning of the campaign helped him to secure almost 12,000 of the approximately 67,000 votes, a large achievement as an independent candidate.
"Any candidate who has a message has a better chance at getting that message to the public through social media," Perkins said.
Contrary to the not-so-distant past, social networking sites do not only cater to a young demographic anymore, Owens said.
"You've got everyone from college age, young adults to grandparents trying to keep up with their grandkids," he said.
Perkins said that while younger generations are more technologically savvy, older generations are picking up on the trend with great speed.
"It's saturating our society across the board."
With the content on social media sites changing frequently, people check these pages more often than the other ways candidates use to communicate, such as e-mail, Owens said.
"Part of the key to effectively utilizing social media is to make sure you're continually updating your status or posting information," Owens said. "It's very content driven. If they don't put new messages up at least daily, the chatter on that channel will eventually die."
Since becoming the director of new media for Republican gubernatorial candidate Mary Fallin last year, Aaron Cooper has watched Fallin's number of Facebook friends climb from 2,000 to more than 17,500.
"Because we're running a statewide campaign, something like Facebook allows people to follow along at home -- something they couldn't do before," Cooper said.
Twitter and Facebook also allow candidates to get messages out instantaneously where, in the past, a press release would have had to be sent to a third party. Cooper said an example of this would be in October when the NRA endorsed Fallin and the message was quickly relayed to Facebook and Twitter.
Since creating a Twitter account, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jari Askins' profile has created more than 1,700 updates that are sometimes revised daily for the more than 3,000 followers to read. Her almost 6,500 followers on Facebook also are able to see these same kinds of updates.
But Owens said other than being an easy and affordable way to campaign, social media outlets are helpful when someone is researching candidates.
"The biggest value is that it allows the voting population to validate a candidate very quickly because it provides transparency," he said. "You can look at someone's profile and cross-reference it ... and see if what they're saying is true.
"People don't expect a candidate to be perfect, but they want to know the truth and social media allows them to get an accurate snapshot of what is going on as opposed to ... a commercial where an agency crafted a message."
Candidates are also able to have a little fun with their sites too. Askins' Facebook page has a photo album titled "Pets for Jari" that showcases dogs, cats and even a horse sporting Jari Askins signs and bumper stickers. Or, on Fallin's Facebook, a photo album showing a behind the scenes look at the taping of one of her campaign commercials was uploaded before the commercial even aired.
Perkins said the accessibility between the candidate and the electorate is now a key component to any race.
"The public is able to gather insight of a candidate as they create their own portrait of themselves over time," he said.
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