The politics of social networks

By Robert Passikoff

A study from the Pew Research Center discovered the remedy for 20% of social networkers who received political puffery too frequently or political opinions antithetical to their own was – wait for it – unfriending or blocking! Surprised? It’s no secret that people feel passionately about politics, and these days about political over-sharing too.

Stop and consider why we vote for a particular candidate. Do we rationally compare his or her position on issues to our own and then vote for the candidate who comes closest to our own rational views? Is it just the state of the economy or war someplace or women’s rights? No, it’s not that. Or certainly not just that, no matter what FOX News or MSNBC reports. If you are perfectly honest with yourself, you likely have certain opinions about the candidates you wouldn’t articulate to some pollster or to some focus group moderator. With social networking, as it turns out, inhibitions are a bit lower. Not being face-to-face with your “friend” makes it a bit easier to share or campaign for.

Want to know exactly how voters feel? To successfully measure any category you need to determine the consumer’s concept of the Ideal. For the electorate it’s measuring the Ideal President and Vice President and then each candidate’s qualities against that Ideal. Effects of debates, commercials, speeches, sound-bites, smears, and even social networking campaigns, can be measured, revealing significant changes in the perception of a candidate. At the end of the campaign trail, the candidate that is seen to best meet or exceed the qualities of the ideal wins. Always.

The four engagement and loyalty drivers that define the Ideal President and Vice President are (alphabetically):

Action: Does the candidate have a comprehensive, realistic, well-considered plan for solving the problems facing the country?

Compassion: Does the candidate care about all the people?

Perception: Does the candidate have a deep understanding of the problems facing the county?

Resolve: Does the candidate have the strength and leadership to guide the country?

Or, in the vernacular of the consumer, “Job skills,” “Empathy,” “Smarts,” and “Guts.”

And, while the drivers apply equally to self-described Republicans, Democrats, and Independents, voters claiming loyalty to a particular party rank the drivers differently in terms of what’s important to them and have different expectations for what they anticipate from their Ideal candidate, hence different party affiliations, convictions, and philosophies. Or, as Grouch Marx also noted, “all people are born alike – except Democrats and Republicans.”

Social networks have an entirely different set of engagement and loyalty drivers than Presidential Elections – but those aren’t totally rational either. The first most-important of which (with the second-highest expectation level) is “Self Image.” The driver with the highest expectation level is – wait for it – “Personal Content Control.” The other engagement drivers include “Ease of Connection” and “Brand Value.”

And yes, Facebook just hit a billion monthly users worldwide, but in the United States those drivers and expectation levels are used to evaluate every social network. So, before you tweet, or make your next post to a friend about your candidate, the story below may help put things into perspective:

Two friends with radically different political views are on their way to the polls on Election Day. One turns to the other and says, "You know, we’ve argued about this for months, and we’re obviously going to vote for different candidates. Our votes will cancel each other out anyway, so why don’t we just call it a draw and go home instead?" The other friend agrees, they shake hands, and part ways.

A third person who overheard the conversation approached the dealmaker and said with admiration, "That’s a real sportsmanlike offer you just made! "Not really," she says, "Just this afternoon I’ve already done this three times."

About the author

By Robert Passikoff is President at Brand Keys.

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