Normally I find it rather off-putting and unnecessarily divisive to discuss politics in mixed company (mixed company being Democrats and Republicans), but I think it might be illustrative to share my personal endorsement and explain how I came to this decision.
I endorse Amanda Freitag for the Food Network’s Next Iron Chef competition. You may think that there is no political significance to this, and you would be wrong. Let me explain why.
Who in the world is Amanda Freitag?
Amanda Freitag is a celebrity chef and is most notably a judge on one of the Food Network’s signature shows “Chopped.” She seems to be pragmatic, even-keel and to understand food very well – which is to say that I understand about as much about her as I do Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
But Amanda Freitag did something that no other contestant in the Next Iron Chef competition did: she tweeted me. More precisely, she responded to a tweet that I sent when I was watching the “Chopped All-Stars” program. In the social world where tenuous connections are the norm, that was pretty exceptional. And it was a small, nearly meaningless investment.
Amanda Freitag may not be a great cook (although I’m sure she is) but that’s insignificant. She may not be as approachable and nice as she appears on TV. She probably has a pretty big ego. I’m quite sure she has no idea who I am. And none of that is particularly relevant to me (spoiler alert: regardless of how likely you would be to have a beer with a politician, the likelihood they will have a beer with you is zero).
That she took the time one night to acknowledge what I said was enough to differentiate her from every other chef in that competition, and every other politician for that matter.
Lessons before the election
Here’s my point – in this “social media election” can anyone out there say that any candidate has created a social media experience comparable to the small acknowledgement that Amanda Freitag gave me? I don’t think so.
What would happen if the candidates didn’t have social media accounts? If tomorrow their Twitter and Facebook disappeared and all of the advertising around them – would the discourse change? Would people’s observations change? Very little. These observations and conversations amplify the conversations people are already having. People don’t need an Obama Facebook page to voice their support or vitriol for him. They don’t need a Romney Twitter account to chastise some of his verbal gaffes.
My other question is, if social media is as ineffective as Forrester implies for getting people to buy – what function is social media performing that changes the dynamic of our elections? How come social media is so effective for politicians and so ineffective for businesses?
But it’s still a social media election right?
Washington State University recently published a study where they observed that “participants (students) who were interested in election information were more likely to use social media, public affairs websites and other digital information sources to learn about elections.” They further conclude that they are more likely to vote. Yes, students who are interested in the election are more likely than disinterested students to discuss it and vote. They discuss things in social media where they devote an increasingly large amount of their media time.
Studies and insights like this attribute causation where there isn’t any. Social media is increasingly how people have conversations, but the conversations are just as apt to take place off-line. Many of them simply repeat political talking points available through traditional media. Ignore the media and the messages are nearly the same. Consider the media and social media shows no evidence of being an effective means to convert or get out the vote.
I bring up the Amanda Freitag example to highlight that no candidates are using social media in a special or impactful way. In fact, I think that a celebrity chef could teach them a lesson about connection. These candidates each spent one billion dollars to get elected and their social media presence was safe, banal and unmemorable. This should be called the social failure election, because technology afforded a lot more opportunities to do something special in this election and each campaign failed (though you’ll probably recall Obama’s Reddit bounce).
What if the President used Keek to outreach to young voters? How impacted would you be if you got a personalized video from the President asking you to vote (or knew someone who had)? What if Mitt Romney were replying to people directly on Twitter? Seriously, the lack of creativity and risk is embarrassing.
Best social politician I’ve met
The best politician that I’ve ever seen use social media is a former City Councilman named D.J. Wilson. I went to college with him, though I probably didn’t say two words to him in four years. I became reacquainted with his work when I moved back to the Seattle area. He was the most accessible politician I have ever seen. He would Tweet, post on Facebook and blog to explain his rationale for nearly every decision that he made. It was amazing to see a politician with that level of transparency, and was an absolute bore for someone outside of his district to read. Political affiliation and personal affiliation aside, D.J. was a phenomenal social politician. And despite this he lost his city council seat in his last election. It’s a shame for his constituency in my opinion, but also should give an indication that social media is not the end-all differentiator that writers are implying that it is.
This Presidential campaign isn’t simply a social media campaign. There were lively conversations on social media, there was overt racism, there was arguing, there were gender issues discussed, there were fringe issues discussed. These campaigns weren’t contributing to the conversation except for an occasional, usually caustic sponsored Twitter trend that set them back $120K or so. This is just a political campaign – primarily fought and bought with traditional media. The social element is entirely blown out of proportion.
While half of the country will be disappointed tomorrow and half will be lauding social media for their candidate’s success, I will be watching The Next Iron Chef and rooting for Amanda Freitag… because she spent two seconds of her time and gave me a reason to.