News for Digital Journalists

January 27, 2011

Social media should be part of your political news strategy, Pew research indicates

Digital communication is changing how Americans learn about and engage in politics—and social media is definitely a fast-growing part of that picture, according to new research from Pew…

A new Pew report claims that 22% of online Americans used social networking or Twitter for politics in 2010 campaign. In addition to Twitter, this included social networking services such as Facebook or MySpace.

Pew did not specify whether locative social media (such as Foursquare) or photo-sharing services (such as Flickr, Instagram, or PicPlz) also played a role in this trend.

In some ways this study indicates a leveling of the digital politics playing field. According to Pew: “In contrast to the 2008 race—in which Democratic voters led the way in their use of online social networks for political purposes—Republican voters and supporters of the Tea Party movement caught up with Democrats in their use of social media in 2010.”

Why should news organizations care? Americans are increasingly using social media to find out about, respond to, and share news, especially political news and analysis.

This is an opportunity to plan ahead and think strategically. News organizations can set up Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and other social media presences that focus on politics—both nationally and in your coverage region.

It’s a good idea to do that now, rather than just before an election. It takes time for any online presence to gain followers and gel as a community. If you build these platforms now, then when election season heats up again you’ll be well-positioned to make the most of this channel to engage and grow your audience.

Note: In December, a related Pew report address politics-related cell phone use in the 2010 elections—indicating why mobile should also be a key part of your political news strategy. See: Political/election news should go mobile, Pew research indicates

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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