What’s easier, attacking or explaining?

Ever hear the old saying that allegations make news, rebuttals don’t?

Do “nuances” lend themselves to 140-bite “tweets?”

If these truths are self-evident then who has the advantage: challengers or incumbents?

This week’s Economist analyzed how politicians around the world from Venezuela to Japan and from Greece to Chile are using Twitter social media tools to get out their messages to constituents and voters. By extension this also applies to those who aim to unseat them. In fact, the insurgents may have a clear advantage. http://www.economist.com/world/international/displaystory.cfm?story_id=16056612

The trend toward quicker and faster political dialogue accelerated from radio fireside chats and televised presidential debates with the birth of “USA Today” in 1982. Fourth Estate purists ripped the new publication as “Journalism Lite” for its practice of synthesizing news down to easy-to-read-and-comprehend stories. The editors of USA Today laughed last as the format meets the needs of the populous with ever-shrinking attention spans to the tune of 1.8 million copies daily as of last March. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USA_Today.

Coupled with the introduction of “Journalism Lite” has been the growing reliance on the 20-second sound bite and the 30-second spot to move the opinions of an increasingly distracted and information-overloaded general public. This is particularly true in multiple-market, mass-media states such as California, New York, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where retail politics are not possible and not even practical.

Political purists have long denigrated reducing complex policy choices, such as health care, immigration, national security, energy, to quick 20-second earned media sound bites or the reach and repetition of paid media 30-second radio and television spots. Even with the growing reliance on digital tools including the Internet and social media neither the 20-second bite nor the 30-second spot is going away anytime soon. http://newteevee.com/2010/02/08/advertisers-look-beyond-the-30-second-tv-spot/

Now add into the mix prominent social media sites including Facebook with its 400 million viewers, Twitter, 100 million, and LinkedIn, 65 million. The Economist concluded that: “As well as boosting the profile of individual politicians, Twitter may be better designed for campaigning and opposition than for governing. ‘We’ll change Washington’ is easy to fit into 140 characters. Explaining the messy and inevitable compromises of power is a lot harder.”

The Economist noted a January study by Fleishman Hillard, a Washington PR firm, http://fleishmanhillard.com/ that discovered that Republicans in the House of Representatives twittered more than five times as often as Democrats.

And which party is the out party? The Republicans. Who is playing offense and leading the fight against incumbents? The Republicans. Who are the incumbents that are playing defense having to explain the inevitable nuances of government and policy development? The Democrats.

Of course, the direct opposite was true back in 2006 as the incumbent Republicans were back on their collective heels against determined challengers, the Democrats. Certainly, Internet organizing was a significant factor in the Democrats taking over both houses of Congress that year and Barack Obama being elected president two years later.

Considering that LinkedIn.com was established in 2003, Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006, the 2010 campaign can effectively be seen as America’s first true social media electoral cycle. Whether the GOP uses these tools to their maximum advantage or whether the Democrats figure out how to employ social media to explain incumbent policies and rally their base will be analyzed in-depth following the November elections.

One thing is certain: Just as radio was harnessed to the advantage of FDR, and television for JFK and Ronald Reagan, we will soon learn who are the first big political winners of the social media age.

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