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Campaigns using social media to reach voters

Posted at 8:05 PM, Sep 16, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS -- The second Republican presidential debate is Wednesday night, and more than ever before—a growing number of people will be following along and weighing in on social media.

The use of social media was seen by campaigns as a novelty in the 2008 presidential election. Now, it is a necessity, especially platforms like Facebook and Twitter. But, more of the candidates are expanding their footprint on social media to connect with potential voters on platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat.

"I follow a lot of candidates, none so specifically. I am trying to get a broad overview rather than following a specific candidate or their platform,” Ball State student Mark Rawlins said.

“We watch the debate itself, so we can get a first-hand account of what they think, because you can put anything you want to put in pictures and on social media but when they're actually asking them questions first-hand, that's what we prefer to watch,” Ball State student Shenika Walker said.

But, Assistant Political Science Professor Brandon Waite says that’s no longer the case. He argues that candidates are targeting a broader audience with their videos and “throwback” photos.

"We might know a candidate, but we don't know who they are. Or they're trying to reshape our perceptions. Not only are these networks good for getting their name out, it's also good for branding and image development,” Waite said. 

Take a selfie, for example.

"If Hillary Clinton wants to start appearing more authentic, more laid back, more in touch with the people, taking selfies with voters is a way of shaping that image."

Waite said retweets, likes, follows and shares have become meaningful metrics for campaigns. He said the interactions translate to votes, although not on a one-on-one ratio.

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"Tonight the debate won't even be over but we'll have a sense of who's ahead, who's behind, who had the best line, because people will quote the line and you'll have a bunch of retweets,” Waite said.

One-sixth of registered voters follow candidates, elected officials or political parties on social media, according to the Pew Research Center.

It’s also becoming a fundraising tool. In the last 24 hours, Twitter announced the ability to donate to candidates through a tweet.