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Social Media and Politics

 Moderator Decker and Panelists Josh Smith, Jason Putorti and Brian Purchia



There is no doubt that Social Media has changed the political landscape. Politicians can now reach their constituents on a more personal level. How has social media changed politics in the recent 2012 campaign? Which social tools have made the biggest impacts? And, what are the keys to a successful social media political campaign?

These questions and more were addressed during The Social Media Club of San Francisco’s (SMCSFO) meeting held on Tuesday November 13th at VigLink who was a fantastic host not only offering a venue for the event but food and refreshments. VigLink offers a suite of content monetization tools that help publishers earn revenue off of the outclicks that come from their content. People recommend products and services online every day, and VigLink helps to capture the value of those recommendations. More information can be found @VigLink.

The panel consisted of Jason Putorti, Co-founder and Designer at Votizen. @putorti is a true enthusiast for politics, so much so that he moved on as a designer for Mint to co-founding Votizen, a consumer technology company that is developing an online network of voters in the United States. Brian Purchia, Gavin Newsom’s prior New Media Strategist and the Tweeter behind Newsom’s tweets, has moved onto other social impact companies such as and Green for All. @brianpurchia now provides consulting as a “Gov 2.0” leader to improve civic engagement by making government more accessible through the power of social media. Josh Smith, a Political Digital Strategist stays non-partisan in order for him to gauge insights from the social media data streams coming from both sides of the campaigns. He also provides a consulting to movie and game studios in both mobile and social media. The moderator of   the panel was our very own Jai Decker of the SMCSFO Leadership Board. @jaidecker is also the CEO and Founder of DrivenTide that works with companies to optimize its online campaigns.

The Speakers provided a deep understanding of the political process from behind the scenes along with insights from the recent Obama and Romney campaign including how the campaigns were influenced, or not, by social Media. There was no shortage of items to discuss and the panelists provided numerous nuggets of information. Below I attempt to scratch the surface of the plethora of topics that were discussed.

Jason talked of the importance of Social Media to reach the Y and the Millennial Generation. He feels there is a need to go beyond the Consultants who are usually of an older generation. TV and direct advertising is no longer efficient at reaching voters.  It’s the messages from a friend or word of mouth that is 10 times more powerful, than say TV, to share the message along with the mobile and social platforms that get the message across. The speed at which the message can be shared is also of key importance and of huge interest at this time.

Brian worked with Gavin Newsom and helped him launch his FB and Twitter pages to the world. He was actually the one who posted as Newsom. He had full authority to do so but it can be tricky as to who actually posts and what authority they have to post. Posting the image of the President’s dog might go through various channels of approval before actually being posted. Brian also spoke of Romney’s “top down” method that did not reach the people on the local level thus missing the critical mass needed for social media to make an impact.

Josh felt that social media at this time is not even relevant. The candidate’s know its important but at this time they are not focusing on it as much as they should. His focus during the campaigns has been to provide analysis from the social media data feeds. As a result, he knows first hand that the algorithms aren’t as reliable as one might expect them to be at this time and candidates have a long way to go to develop their social media expertise. The other panelists were in agreement. 

Obama invested a fair amount of money into Social Media as was evident with the hire of Reed Harper, and perhaps his victory. An article by John Pietz of Chicago titled, “What’s next for Obama campaign’s tech Wiz Reed” talked of how Reed was able to organize volunteers and gather real-time data by adopting social media and mobile platforms. In fact, Brian pointed out how behind Romney was in his tactics. As an example he pointed out how in Iowa, Obama had over 15,900 Likes on his Fan Page while Romney had just 65. I also learned from PBS’s Newshour that Obama spent 10:1 over Romney or in dollars, Obama spent $47 million to Romney’s 4.7 million! 

How do the campaigns measure success on the media platforms? Jason pointed out there is a move away from impressions and instead there is now a focus on the cost per action. How much is it costing to get a vote is the key metric. It’s a disruption in the industry.

Social Media is still a risk in Politics, but it’s a powerful way to reach out to over 300 million in the United States. The main focus for Social Media continues to be on Facebook, followed by Twitter and to an extent YouTube. Reddit is also a channel of interest, as it was noted that it was used by Obama. Most important is Word of Mouth and the various social media channels that fuel the canidate's messages through word of mouth’s powerful reach. 

It was agreed by all the panelists that moving forward what needs to be worked on is the following: Focus on Local, Strengthening the Communities such as Facebook and Twitter, Working with Candidates that “Get” the Social Media Strategy, and Investing on the technical side including analytics, content, lead generation and of course, Social Media.

Most important is the need for authenticity when working with Social Media. As Jason stated, “Even with all the socialmedia in the world, it comes down to the community.” His hope is in the future to build just that community with shared values that will participate in the political process. It seemed that was the consensus of the panelists, along with making social media more relevant in the next campaign.
















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