Social media has become a part of just about everyone’s life, and if you’re a candidate to be the next governor of Alabama, social media may be essential to your career. Ron Sparks and Robert Bentley both have extensive social media networks spreading multiple platforms. But how important is it for them to be highly visible online? Let’s find out, and then see who would win the election if social media was the determining factor.
According to a Harris poll, four out of five adult Americans use the internet (What’s the deal with that other 20%?), and the average adult spends more than 13 hours online per week. If you’re in your thirties, you spend more time than any adult group online at 18 hours per week. Social media popularity is up well over 40% year to year. Let’s frame it this way, would you be more likely to click a link from a wall post and tweet about a candidate or sit and listen to a robocall on your landline (if you still have one…)? I thought so.
So social media is important, and it’s transforming politics. There’s probably just as good a chance you saw Tim James’ commercials on YouTube as on local television, and who didn’t check out basilmarceaux.com in the last few weeks? And it’s not just the funny stuff making an impact. Do you remember in 2008 when Barack Obama raised half a billion dollars from three million people online? He changed the rules on using the internet in campaigns, captivating millions of young people and generating a grassroots campaign that couldn’t be stopped. I believe that because of the November 2008 election, a politician’s involvement in social media of some sort is now absolutely mandatory.
I know that a candidate’s social media network doesn’t physically get them elected, but I do think it can make a significant difference in a campaign’s ability to get the message out. Sarah Palin post-election anybody? I can’t go a week without hearing on the news about a status update or tweet she’s made to one of her nearly two and a half million combined followers. I also guarantee you that any consultant worth their salt makes social media an immediate and consistent priority for all of their campaigns. So let’s take an assessment of Ron Sparks and Robert Bentley’s social profiles and see if we can guess, based on their social media standing, which candidate will come out on top in November.
|Media Platform||Ron Sparks||Robert Bentley|
|Max 5,000 friends, over 5,700 likes on candidate page||Max 5,000 friends, no candidate page a real disadvantage|
|784 followers, following 314, 287 tweets||1915 followers, following 1446, 1070 tweets|
|YouTube||1,621 channel views, 3,114 total upload views, 27 subscribers, 15 uploads||5,091 channel views, 32,725 total upload views, 40 subscribers, 29 uploads|
|Flickr||No account, limited pictures on website... has opportunity here.||Photo albums from events... a creative way to share time on campaign trail|
Both candidates are doing a pretty decent job at social media. However, I’ve got some advice for each. Bentley is leading Sparks in terms of his social media diversity, with significantly stronger Twitter and YouTube followings plus the Flickr bonus, which is a nice touch for people to see themselves in his photo stream after campaign events. Bentley is probably at a bit of an advantage for overall network presence because of the extra attention he received in the runoff. Sparks should probably utilize twitter more often and give social media a stronger presence on his website, as his links are currently not very appealing and they are down on the bottom left of his home page. He does show progress with his YouTube account, answering questions from Facebook via video, but I’d recommend they edit the introductions a bit before posting to keep the personal touch but make them feel slightly less makeshift.
However, Sparks absolutely trounces Bentley on Facebook because of one key blunder by Bentley. Sparks has both a personal profile and a candidate page. The difference is that someone can only have 5,000 friends on Facebook, which both of them have maxed out (the actual number will consistently hover just under 5,000). With the candidate page, Sparks can have unlimited followers, and therefore an unlimited number of people involved with that aspect of his social media campaign. So Bentley, without any candidate page, has already peaked with his Facebook presence more than two months before the election! He will need to change this as the election gets closer and more Alabamians get more involved in the process. If he doesn’t he’ll be foregoing a real opportunity to connect with voters.
All in all it is a touch call to determine which candidate has the greater social media presence. Bentley is more diverse and has more followers on non-facebook sites, but is making a serious social media mistake by not having a candidate page on Facebook. Sparks has a strong and involved Facebook following and is showing promise on YouTube with the recent videos, but really needs to work on maximizing his Twitter presence. I actually think the social media election for Alabama governor is a toss up right now. Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses, but it’s just too close to call either way. What’s your vote?
Brian is an engineer working in Birmingham, AL. He likes to hang out with his wife, Erica, and his blue great dane, Lucy May. He can be found at his blog or on twitter.