The Role of Social Media in Political Campaigns

Tom Murse (2019), writing for Thought Co., indicates that “the use of social media in politics…dramatically changed the way campaigns are run.” Social media use in politics is a new phenomenon in communications studies. Similar in manifestation to integrated marketing campaigns where branding and dialogue are key to success, political campaigns now use social media to establish the candidate’s political identity, to educate and attract voters, and to disseminate information. Allison Gosman (2016) explains that social media “has become a powerful mechanism for political campaigns to strategize their communication plans” leading to the creation of shareable content that candidates and supporters can use to increase awareness, engage publics, and appeal for votes. Paired with traditional political analytics like party affiliation and exit polls, social media are  useful in predicting voter behavior. Understanding the many platforms–their reach, capabilities, and mechanics–are essential to politics in the 21st century. This listicle provides titles, references and brief summaries for scholarly articles researching the evolution and trends of social media in political campaigns.


Gosman, A. (2016, October 20). Real life lessons: Social media and the 2016 presidential election. Nasdaq Corporate Solutions. Retrieved from

Murse, T. (2019, May 25). How social media has changed politics. Thought Co. Retrieved from

#1 More Tweets, More Votes

An advantage of social media in political campaigns is the ability to generate compelling data about clicks, use, engagement, likes, shares, and so on. Data analytics are efficient at targeting and tracking users and are useful to campaigns when writing content for social media. DiGrazia and colleagues (2013) find that the online “‘buzz’…about a candidate on social media can be used as an indicator of voter behavior” (p. 1), specifically on Twitter and finds that this “holds regardless of whether the Tweet is positive or negative” (p. 4). Authors also conclude that polling data is only a subset of information candidates need to be successful; that social media analytics are essential in to the modern campaign.

#2 The Personalization of Politics

Social media allows individuals to develop both a unique and group identity across platforms and Bennett explores more “hybrid forms of participation” (p. 27) and discusses how individual social networks have the profound function of spreading information across various groups through “digitally networked activism” (p. 29).

Bennett, W. L. (2012). The personalization of politics: Political identity, social media, and changing patterns of participation. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 644(1), 20-39.

#3 From Networked Nominee to Networked Nation

Cogburn and colleagues (2011) look specifically at the 2008 Obama presidential campaign to understand how the Obama campaign translated online activism into real-life participation in terms of funding and voting. Also researched are ways the social media campaign engaged participants and “facilitate[d] and ongoing social movement that influence[d] his administration” (p. 192).

#4 Detecting and Tracking Political Abuse in Social Media

This paper explores political astroturfing which are “political campaigns disguised as spontaneous ‘grassroots’ behavior that are in reality carried out by a single person or organization” (p. 297). Ratkiewicz and colleagues (2011) research “how” political information is shared via social media, not necessarily “what” information is shared.

#5 College Students’ Use of Online Media Affects Election Outcome

Scholars Kushin and Yamamoto (2013) explored various traditional and online mediums for political message dissemination and found that traditional media, when moved to an online format, may be as important to political knowledge and exploration among millennials as new (social) media and creating both may be essential to political campaigning. They determine “social media allow users to experience politics at a more intimate interpersonal level (p. 622) and that social media is helpful way to network both candidates and information.

#6 Networking Democracy?

Authors appeal for some amount of caution using social media as a disruptive device and encourage its use as a resource for continued engagement and advocacy for political participation from dialogue to voting and beyond.

#7 Political Communication on Social Media

Steiglitz and colleagues (2013) determine “it is important to understand the impact [of social media] on political communication in the contemporary political environment”(p. 609). Understanding how the new generation participates in politics will help campaigns evolve messaging and engagement.

#8 Social Networks in Political Campaigns

Before social media strategies became ubiquitous in politics, candidates struggled to understand and adopt strategies to support campaign goals, often choosing one social media platform over another. This targeting strategy generally attracted the college-educated demographic, but as widespread social media use proliferates society, a candidates’ participation in social media platforms can increase engagement when his/her own platforms are maintained and updated. This study suggests more research is needed to determine the types of social media engagement that makes candidates appear “more accessible and…authentic” (p. 67).

#9 Political Social Media Engagement

Publics are increasingly accessing campaign information through the social media networks of candidates and there is great “potential for social media to enhance, support and even motivate engagement in the political process” (p. 138). This study shows that online engagement can be a predictor of offline participation in political campaigns.

#10 Young People, Internet Use, and Political Participation

Authors Bakker and De Vreese study how the younger generation engages in politics and find that participation may look different than from previous generations where participants were expected to show up at meetings, declare party affiliation and vote on election days. Younger generations seem less inclined to participate in traditional ways but Bakker and De Vreese examine several hypotheses aimed at understanding how political messaging is consumed on social media versus more traditional avenues and how this consumption translates into engagement.

#11 When Politicians’ Personal Disclosures Enhance Vote Intention

A study using participants from South Korea studies the effects of male and female candidates posting on social media about their private lives and how these posts affect voter intention. Using the platforms Facebook and Twitter, Lee and colleagues determine that sharing of personal information by female candidates often raises questions about suitability and competence whereas when men share it seems to make them more relatable to voters. More work certainly needs to be done to explore biases toward candidates in real life and on social media.


Author: Morgan

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