If there is a politician or elected official in the Western world who thinks that they don’t need to be aware of social media after the recent Iranian elections, I’d be quite surprised. Its true that many politicians are (wilfully?) ignorant of technology and social media, but even the most ardent luddite cannot help but notice the opportunities presented by these tools.
There is an outside chance that even after President Obama brilliantly displayed the value of social media in his campaign some politicians might still have not seen the value of these tools. The way that social media has shed light on recent Iranian elections, however, should leave no room for doubt with anyone who thinks they should hold elected office.
In an election of questionable legitimacy that has lead to unquestionably brutal police tactics, the one tool that was effectively able to draw world attention was social media. Twitter saw thousands of posts right from Tehran, YouTube ended up with saddeningly graphic videos, blogs were posted by those who voted and were intimidated by state police thugs – and all over the world minds were changed and hearts were won over.
In real-time, supporters of Mir Hussein Mousavi were able to show what was happening in a visceral way that allowed people all over the world to form deeply-held views on events that they would likely have never heard of otherwise.
So what is the lesson in all this for candidates running for office in our communities, thousands of miles away? Simply, it is that they ignore these tools at their own peril – or at least that of their campaign. And that the availability of immediate and free tools with which to communicate to supporters are finally here.
Imagine the power of being able to deliver a quick message to all of your supporters in response to a negative ad or news item. And wouldn’t it help to significantly improve event attendance if there was a way to remind supporters a few hours before an event? What if you could establish a dialogue with potential voters that allowed you to get your message out, and that was also monitored by local media.
While these are just a few of the potential uses of social media in election campaigns – keep in mind that these tools are largely free. There are numerous ways to set up a free blog, and Twitter, Facebook and YouTube don’t charge anything for accounts.
The only downside? Time.
For a candidate or campaign that wants to make the most of these tools, it is almost too late to start once the campaign is on. All of these tools are based on electronic relationships, and just like in the real world, it is to late to start cultivating them when you need them.
So in the end, the real lesson here is that for candidates considering running for office at some point in their lives, there is no time like the present to get started using social media.