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Social Media Is Important For Politicians, But How Well Does It Work?

Campaigns were estimated to have spent more than $1 billion on digital ads in 2016. But politics on social media can have drawbacks.
Social Media Is Important For Politicians, But How Well Does It Work?

Politicians are spending more and more money on social media — but is it worth it?

Last year, research firm Borrell Associates estimated political campaigns spent more than $1.4 billion on digital advertising in 2016. That includes ads for video, mobile, email, social media and online searches. And Hamid Bendaas, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, offered some insight on how effective social media is.

"With social media, it's more of a direct pathway of getting your message out there," Bendaas said.

To reach voters online, especially young voters, politicians and staffers try to use blunt and authentic language that's responsive to the news. That's trickier than you'd think, but a key to using social media seems to be consistency.

"And I think that's why you kind of see politicians with very concrete ideological platforms and very concrete ideas or visions of what they to see this country be," Bendaas said. "They do very well on social media."

Politicians who've had some success on social media include Ted Lieu, whose 2017 tweet apparently won "Most Viral Post" during a House Democrats' Online All-Star Competition to gain new followers on social media. Another politician who does well on social platforms online? President Donald Trump. 

Of course, there are drawbacks to politicians using social media.

Before the 2016 presidential election, the Pew Research Center found more than a third of the social media users surveyed were "worn out by the amount of political content they encounter."

During the 2016 election, a recent study found political content on Facebook and Twitter was more partisan and unreliable than the news media.

For politicians, Bendaas says the risk of creating partisan "echo chambers" is real but says they can avoid that by speaking directly to voters as a whole, instead of targeted audiences.

"If we've learned anything from the last couple election cycles, it's there's a huge part of this country that politicians really aren't speaking to," Bendaas said. "There's a huge part of this country that traditional news media is not speaking to, and I think we're going to see the limits of social media as well. Nothing replaces knocking on someone's door and talking to them in person."