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How Social Media Has Changed the Election Process

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How are presidential campaigns using social media differently in 2016 than in 2012 and 2008? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Matt Lira, Mix of Experiences on Capitol Hill, National Campaigns Using Digital For Good, on Quora.

There are always interesting experiments from one presidential campaign cycle that become central to winning the next cycle. Winning campaigns learn the lessons of the previous cycle, while also backing experimentation to find the next big advantage.

In 2008, particularly in the general election, in many ways social media was that experiment. It's reach was limited to the specific demographics of these platforms (skewing younger, cities, etc.), but the potential was demonstrated.

By 2012, social media platforms had grown exponentially, becoming a standard way to communicate and organize for the vast majority of Americans. It was no longer an option to do social media well. For instance, this was evident on 2012 debate nights; the vaunted spin rooms became an empty ritual, still important, but they no longer shaped the story. That conversation was being shaped in real-time on social.

In 2016, social media is shaping the narrative - more days than not, a campaign's narratives are being defined by conversations on social media - among journalists, activists and voters. The debate night experiences from 2012 have essentially become the daily experience; in many ways, social is now in the driver's seat.

Whenever a new form of media emerges, the people who excel at it are those who appreciate what makes that form of media distinct from its predecessors. Too many campaigns treat social as a new form of broadcast communication; when it is fundamentally about community, conversations and connections. The campaigns that are thriving this cycle are those that are embracing that - spending as much time in a conversation, engaging with supporters, as they are broadcasting a message.

I also feel that, in an era of saturated media ads, the ability of peer-to-peer conversations to shape close elections and drive voter turnout is under appreciated. Both parties experimented with this in 2012 and 2014, I believe it will play a larger role in 2016.

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