When Michael Sholes decided to run for senator of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student government, his campaign strategy focused on social media. He created a Facebook event reminding students to vote for him in this week’s elections.
“To be honest, it’s been 90 percent of my campaign,” Sholes said. “If I can get a solid core of people I think I will be in good shape.”
As the campaigns of U.S. presidential candidates embrace social media to convey their message and encourage donations, college students are also using social media sites to get the word out about their campaigns.
Facebook is a popular medium for campaigns, said John Durham, professor of advertising and marketing at the University of San Francisco, in a USA TODAY story.
“From an advertising perspective, Facebook is the flavor of the day for every political strategist, Durham said. “They realize people are no longer in a passive media source such as television.”
Sholes said he thought his Facebook event page was effective in reminding students to vote.
“I don’t think it can hurt,” Sholes said. “My main thing is I have a good feeling that these people would vote for me if they remember to vote, so I’m just trying to make sure people actually cast their ballots.”
Two years ago, then-UNL student Sammy Nabulsi used Facebook and Twitter to direct students to a main website for his party’s student government presidential campaign. The candidates would post updates and blog posts on the site.
Now a student at Suffolk Law School, Nabulsi again used social media this year to campaign when he ran for Student Bar Association section representative. This time, however, he eliminated the website.
“What’s changed even in two years is that people are using Facebook as their main interface,” Nabulsi said.
A potential issue with social media sites is that it can be difficult to filter what other people contribute to the site. During the UNL student government elections, one party let go of a running member after he posted a comment to the group’s Facebook page that other members deemed homophobic.
“You can’t really control what other people contribute,” Nabulsi said. “Anyone can write something, and the tough part is that if someone posts something and you disagree, your instinct is to go into attack mode. You have to find a medium to respectfully disagree and let other viewers see you have an opinion but don’t look immature.”
Nabulsi ended up winning his race for section representative. But, he said, social media wasn’t a replacement for meeting with voters face-to-face.
“You can plant the seed through social media, but you have to go out,” he said. “You can have a great web presence, but if people don’t know you they won’t vote for you.”
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