Ever since Barack Obama effectively leveraged social media to capture the Democratic presidential nomination over Hilary Clinton, and then won the presidency by outflanking John McCain, social media has been hailed as the silver bullet for political elections.
It’s based on the idea that social media can drive exposure, engagement, platforms and donations to provide politicians with a competitive edge.
Social media is also seen as a powerful way to reach younger voters who have traditionally not been enthusiastic about voting.
Obama’s success has emboldened political parties around the world to enthusiastically embrace social media. At the same time, however, it may have given social media too much credit.
Yes, social media is an effective communications and marketing tool during elections but it is important to remember it’s just one tool that political candidates can use to win the support of voters.
In many respects, elections still rely on traditional tools and techniques. Politicians still need to make public appearances to engage voters and communicate their platforms.
They need to knock on doors, shake hands outside grocery stores, community centres and shopping malls. They need to participate in public debates, put up posters and lawn signs, and make phone calls to solicit support.
In other words, it is difficult, if not impossible to run a digital-only campaign fuelled by social media.
The combination of social media and non-digital activity is front and centre during the election now happening in the Canadian province in which I live, Ontario.
As much as the three main parties – the Liberals, PCs and NDP – have Web sites and are active on Twitter and Facebook, the local candidates and party leaders are out and about – shaking hands, kissing babies, and visiting coffee shops and factories.
Sure, social media is a powerful tool that can be used by politicians to win elections. At the same time, politicians still need to leverage non-digital tools and approaches.
For more thoughts on the value of “door knocking”, check out this Canadian Press story.