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Social networking transforms political communication

Prior to the 2008 presidential election, then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama hired Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes to run his social media campaign. By hiring Hughes, Obama changed political communications, and many politicians started using social media as a communication tool with their constituents and potential voters. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn provided the opportunity for Americans to find instant news and information from their legislators, even before it is publicized broadly through traditional media. Social media has become an unprecedented direct avenue of communication between citizens and their elected officials.

Prior to the growth of social media, the majority of political offices would respond to their constituent’s letters, phone calls, and emails with one of the same. The incredibly high volume of correspondence with Congressional offices led to slow response times. Some offices took two or three weeks to respond to constituents. Approximately two years ago, less than half of members of Congress used Twitter.

Congressional staff would send out more traditional mail that would not reach constituents in a timely fashion. Government offices relied largely on newspapers and constituent mail to get their message out to the public. Likewise, constituents had to send letters or emails or drive to see their elected officials to get their voices heard. Since 2011, Americans have been able to use social media as a tool to communicate with government officials, an avenue that has not been offered before.

The 2011 State of the Union marked a turning point in social media’s use by politicians. Elected members of Congress could be seen “tweeting” from the House floor to the more than 100 million members of Twitter. The publicity generated by Congressmen using Twitter during the State of the Union pushed other members of Congress to set up and maintain Twitter accounts in the months that followed, and more than 85 percent of our Senators and Representatives got into social media. That number continues to rise today.

Social media also shaped the 2012 presidential race. Earlier this year, Michele Bachmann began uploading all of her campaign videos onto YouTube to share her experiences and visions she had for the country. Similarly, President Obama set up a live stream through Facebook where he was asked questions by individuals on Facebook. More than 22,000 individuals signed up for this.

The Mitt Romney and Obama campaigns began to place their daily Web ads on YouTube and other highly-trafficked Internet sites, in hopes of reaching more people with their messages specifically in the swing states of Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia. Additionally, early in 2012, Governor Romney rolled out his mobile Vice President app, which promised to inform all users of the app who the VP pick would be before the announcement.

Facebook has proven to be a great communication outlet for politicians to get their messages out to a large number of people for minute cost. According to a study by the Congressional Management foundation, more than 60 percent of senior managers and social media managers in Congressional offices say Facebook is a “somewhat or very important tool” for understanding the views and opinions of constituents. In addition, 42 percent say the same for Twitter, and just 34 percent say YouTube is a “somewhat or very important” social media tool.

Social media will be an important tool in the future of political communication for court reporters. The lessons learned from Capitol Hill certainly can be transferred down to the state level when lobbying for issues important to the day-to-day lives and livelihoods like certification, third-party contracting, keeping officials in the courtroom, and any other issue related to the profession.