No longer can a politician get by on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube alone. When President Obama showed the power and potential of these services in 2008, every politician and their chief of staff's mother jumped on the social media bandwagon. And in this 2012 campaign cycle, we're seeing the impact of this trend—not on the electorate but on the way campaigns are run in the digital era.
Candidates gunning for Washington today are seemingly addicted to signing onto every social media service—Tumblr, Google+, Flickr, Foursquare, you name it—in hopes of reaching yet another untapped pocket of tappable constituents. Take Obama, who yesterday joined Instagram, a service of just 15 million (global iPhone) users. Narrowing that figure down to domestic users, likely voters, and Democrats will likely significantly reduce the number of constituents Obama could reasonably reach (though he has already zoomed to 17,000 followers). On Google+, which he joined in November, Obama has been added to just a little more than 8,000 Circles. And on Foursquare, which the White House joined in August, Obama has racked up just 48,000 followers, a minuscule number compared to his followers on Twitter (11.7 million) or his "Likes" on Facebook (24.3 million). At this rate, don't be surprised to see Mitt Romney's dimples with their own Tumblr account.
The point here is that since social media became the campaigning tool de jour, candidates almost can't risk missing out on the next big digital trend, whether that's Instagram, Google+, or Tumblr. We saw this before in 2010, when high-profile candidates including Rick Perry and Charlie Crist joined Gowalla, the Foursquare check-in competior, which had just a few hundred thousand users at the time. Their campaigns unveiled candidate-branded passport stamps (or badges) that supporters could earn for checking in at events and town halls. Of course, Gowalla has since done a huge pivot and been gobbled up by Facebook, its potential dashed along with Crist's senatorial aspirations.
Where does it stop? Here, a list of seven social networks Obama and other GOP candidates should absolutely, definitely, seriously join.
1. HeyTell. The popular smartphone app, which lets users share instant voicemails with each other like a walkie-talkie, would be an instant hit among voters. And Joe Biden, who could pretend he was an Amtrak conductor sending urgent messages to his train's coal car.
2. XBox Live. This is one of the largest untapped social network's out there—and one of the most valuable, with more than 35 million users who've logged their credit cards onto the service. Obama and Biden could hit up the Halo playing fields, under the names TheChosen1 and ChooChoo69, and battle people for donations. Huge potential here for marketing to younger demographics.
3. Path. Imagine the potential here. The personalized social network would create an incredibly intimate experience between Obama and his followers, sharing everything from his location to his photos to when he's sleeping. Of course, Path is limited to 150 friends, but those would be some damn special friends for Obama. One idea: Obama could build a network of 149 friends, then leverage that last spot for an endorsement from Donald Trump, who would gain access to Obama's birth certificate and other personal docs.
5. GroupMe. The group-messaging service, which Skype bought recently for a reported $85 million, would enable voters "to get involved in the conversation," as many politicians want their constituents to do. The public could gain an inside look at the chats between Obama and David Axelrod as they plan their secret campaign victory strategy.
On a serious note, we do think Instagram is a great choice for campaigns—a fascinating, inside look at behind-the-scenes action rarely seen in politics. (Think Hilary Clinton's reaction to Gaddafi's death.) Oh, and lastly, it'd also be great for candidates to join Quora, to use it as a platform for offering and answering questions on policy.