Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Social Media Calls for Changes in Information Consumption

Nowadays social Media is nothing new but a powerful tool in people's lives. It not only provides us a platform for instant communication, but also casts a significant influence which changes our behavior and expectation. 

The power of social media mainly comes from the unprecedented online attention it attracts and the real-time information exchange. The death of the pop music icon, Michael Jackson, could serve as the best example to illustrate the changes social media brings to the world. On June 25, 2009 his personal physician found Michael Jackson stop breathing in his house. Soon the news was circulated online by thousands of shocked people and continued to trigger unresolvable grief. The message became a prevailing topic on all kinds of social media in a short time. People used Twitter, Facebook and many other tools online to discuss the event. Some data show that every minute 5,000 tweets were posted and 90% of them were about the death of Michael Jackson. Web page usage that day jumped to 4.2 million per minute from 2 million in normal times. All these activities resulted in a traffic gridlock on the Internet for nearly half an hour. If you search "Michael Jackson" on Google News the only information you could receive a "we're sorry" error page. This makes many people start to realize social media has become a main source to obtain information. 

Knowing that information can spread quickly and efficiently through the network, social media also become an important arena for politics. It helps to promote transparency, responsiveness and public participation in the field of politics. Social media also allows political candidates break the "equal time" rule and legally push their campaign as progressively as they want. It's not surprising that politicians put more and more attention on Internet. President Obama made his first move towards social media in his 2008 presidential campaign. I think Obama made a right decision 4 years ago, especially seeing how much influence he gains over social media in the 2012 presidential campaign: many people are following Obama's movements online and those followers are passionate to participate in discussions.  

His Republican competitor, Mitt Romney, apparently is facing a difficult time winning people's favor online. Romney and his team are always criticized as fail to emotionally connect to netizens. Some people find that messages post on social media by Mitt Romney and his team are not good enough to motivate people to participate in online conversation. This may partly explain the reason why Mitt Romney has much less online followers than Obama. (Click Here to view an interesting article evaluating influence of Obama and Romney on social media)

It's very interesting to notice how social media changes the role of politician. People who run a campaign are all expected to address a formal performance. We can see every presidential candidate is serious about every sentence they say in public speech: that's how they earn people's trust on each promise they made. Once the campaign happens on social media, the public have a different expectation on candidates. Topics discussed should be interesting enough to attract people's attention, otherwise the message candidates want to deliver will soon sink in the sea of information. More vivid expressions should be used even for serious topics such as health care and unemployment. When Mitt Romney is giving a speech on a podium, audiences want nothing but real and useful information. However, his followers online can be pleased only if he is more entertaining. 

Even though Obama is far more successful in campaigning on social media than his opponent, how much it reflects in the real world? How can we measure a person's influence online? By the number of tweet he/she publishes or by the quality of the tweets? What components are important to attract online attention? I guess we cannot get a clue about how many differences social media makes in Obama's presidential campaign until the result of voting comes out.  

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