For political parties in Dallas, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have become valuable tools for communication and winning votes. The opportunities offered by these sites made a big difference in the 2008 elections, and many hope to capitalize on them again in November of 2010.
For Democrats, social networking connects to voters they need to target. “In 2008, we saw a whole new set of voters come in,” according to Steve Tillery, executive director of the Dallas County Democratic Party. “A lot of local candidates had been using it, and there was lots of chatter there. We decided we needed to get in on this and build some excitement.”
“It’s helped in a few ways,” Dallas County Republican Party chairman Jonathan Neerman said of social networking. “We’ve become more nimble in our communication tactics. When news breaks, you can quickly notify your entire mail list. It has also helped us reach out to different audiences.”
The Democratic and Republican Parties both utilize Facebook, mostly to pass along political news of local interest and to promote their candidates. It has also been an effective fund-raising tool for Republicans. During a recent Dallas visit by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the county GOP used Facebook to promote a “money-bomb,” a concentrated money-raising effort. Supporters were asked to contribute to the party in a “money-bomb” to counter Pelosi’s local fund-raising efforts. All told, county Republicans raised over $10,000.
According to Tillery, the county Democratic party does not use social networking for fund-raising. “It just hasn’t been successful for us,” he said. What has worked for Democrats, he said, is using Facebook to organize volunteer efforts. During several recent neighborhood walks to “get out the vote,” over 100 volunteers turned out, largely due to word on Facebook.
Some candidates also use social networking as a fund-raising tool. Stephen Broden, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in District 30 (Texas), uses Facebook and Twitter to communicate with supporters, even those outside his district. Many of them use links on his Facebook page to contribute to his campaign.
YouTube may be an entertainment source for most, but it has become a powerful political tool as well. The Dallas County Republican Party has used their official YouTube channel (dallascountygop) to post news stories, videos from rallies and speeches, and even original viral videos. When chairman Jonathan Neerman posted a video of his young daughter delivering yard signs, the response was instant. “We had people calling us wanting to have my daughter deliver signs to them,” he said.
The Dallas County Democratic Party also has an official channel (dallascountydems2010) that shares videos of recent neighborhood walks in Dallas. The Dallas County Young Democrats posted a series of videos called “Meet the Democrats,” featuring local candidates speaking from the heart about why they are running.
Twitter has been an especially effective tool used by candidates to keep in touch with supporters, and even make news. When Debra Medina was running for governor, she often made announcements via Twitter, ahead of traditional press releases.
As both parties look to make the most of their social networks, the big question is what comes next. “I want to know what is going to be the next big thing we will have to get into,” Tillery said. “What is going to replace Facebook and Twitter?”
Sources: Personal interviews with Steve Tillery and Jonathan Neerman, Dallas County Democratic Party Facebook Page, Dallas County Republican Party Facebook Page, Dallas County Young Democrats YouTube Page.