All of those Likes might be good practice for the real thing. But the better place to go to find people who actually vote isn't Facebook, it's LinkedIn, says Professor Keith Hampton, researcher on Pew's new poll on civic engagement in social network users. The business social network draws older, more educated citizens—voters who are far more reliable when it come to casting ballots than those on Facebook.
Regardless of platform, Pew's groundbreaking study does suggest that social media is a hotbed of social butterflies and enthusiastic citizens and an essential platform for generating civic buzz.
All the viral sexy Obama Girl videos and "Hope" posters in the world mean nothing without a bigger pile of votes at the end of the election day. The graph below shows that, compared to Facebook, 14% more LinkedIn users "Voted or intended to vote" and 12% more "Tried to influence someone's vote."
To put this in perspective, 2008's supposed "youthquake" ended up being an imperceptible tremor on Nov 4th. The youth vote only bumped 2.1% from the previous election (partly due to a spike in minority turnout). One explanation comes from the University of California, Irvine's Professor Russel Dalton, who finds that younger voters tend to eschew structured civic activities, such as voting and supporting a political party, for boycotts and online activity.
Compared to Facebook, LinkedIn remains largely ignored by campaigners. Republican front-runner Mitt Romney has 1,700 times more fans on Facebook than he has members in the LinkedIn group. Of course, LinkedIn groups are relatively new, as is its newsfeed feature, but at 100 million members and growing, the up-and-coming social networking platform is an untapped trove of likely voters who would be valuable advertising targets for banner ads and direct messages on election day—which is why Professor Hampton tells Fast Company that his new study should give politicians a reason to look twice at LinkedIn.
However, "Facebook is king," reminds Hampton, and is a hotbed of the most politically active social media users, after accounting for demographics like sex, age, and education. From the report:
"Facebook user who visits the site multiple times per day is two and a half times more likely to have attended a political rally or meeting, 57% more likely to have tried to convince someone to vote for a specific candidate, and 43% more likely to have said they voted or intended to vote [Emphasis Added]."
In other words, Facebook is a buzz machine: Millions of share-happy citizens join groups in droves, actively pass around campaign material, and hold events in honor of their political pick. As a result of his wired constituents, and the help of a Facebook cofounder, then candidate Barack Obama was able to break into the national scene with unrivaled online buzz and a connected group of hardcore supporters in the political primary caucus states.
When Facebook growth levels out for candidates, and they've reached almost every user that they can possibly snag, LinkedIn might be an easy land-grab, especially for Republican politicians who have found less-than-stellar success on Twitter and YouTube, given that their core constituency probably only logs on to Facebook to wish their grandchildren happy birthday.
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