Social media platforms make old school politics new again

The most ReTweeted Tweet during last week’s Republican convention wasn’t a Mitt Romney sound bite or a call to action for fundraising dollars. In fact, the Tweet with the most buzz didn’t come from a Republican at all.

seat takenPresident Obama’s “This seat’s taken” quip on Twitter – a shot across the bow during Clint Eastwood’s empty chair skit – was shared an eye-popping 55,000 times, making it the most viral Tweet of the convention season (see photo at left).

Here’s a quick look at our social media and tech takeaways from this year’s conventions:

Real time curating: Gone are the days of morning after chatter; water coolers have been replaced with Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. Convention speeches are curated live, giving pundits, members of the media and Average Joes around the world a platform for praising, arguing, fact-checking, criticizing, and sharing. At the same time, social media gives journalists a window into the minds of the public, enabling them to gauge public opinion before they file their stories. Does this amount to Groupthink at its best…or worst?

eastwood chair_0Fast action response: The President’s “this seat’s taken” Tweet was broadcast to nearly 20 million Twitter users around the world (to put this number in perspective, about 30 million people tuned in to watch Gov. Romney accept his nomination on TV, according to the Nielsen Ratings). Social media creates an instant platform for communicating opposing points of view in real time, without a censor.

Speeches have extended life: The real gamesmanship begins once a speech is over, when social media users and online media dissect every word, every gesture, every adlib. The New York Times is even running “anatomy of a speech” features offering up editor notes and fact-checking results side by side with the actual text and video. This gives speeches an element of immortality (for better or worse), ensuring they will be subject to praise, mockery and study in perpetuity.

romneySo what’s the net impact of this social media hubbub? It’s easy to argue that it diminishes whatever’s left of the real world, long-term effects of the conventions themselves. For instance, the Gallup Poll found that Gov. Romney actually lost support following the convention, throwing a wrench into the conventional wisdom that candidates inevitably gain ground following hours upon hours of TV coverage.

My take? I think it’s for the better. If there’s a criticism of American democracy, it’s that we’re disengaged, apathetic and distracted. Growing awareness of the political process – no matter the mechanism – engages more people, fosters more discourse, and ensures the conversation keeps going long after the final balloon drops.