1. Lack of a strong social media presence makes a candidate seem old-fashioned and out touch. Social media is the people’s media. Not communicating on social media makes a candidate look as if they don’t want to talk to real people. Engaging with social media makes candidates seem accessible, alive and responsive.
2. Social media is immediate, direct and unfiltered. While we’d have to be naïve to think that candidates are completely unscripted on Twitter and Facebook, those avenues feel much more direct than reading an article by a journalist or listening to a prepared speech. But seeing dialogues on social media, even with others, increases our sense of intimacy. We feel as if we can have direct interaction with the candidate. We feel part of the conversation and it increases our beliefs that we know a candidate because our instinctive brain doesn’t make the distinction between virtual and real that our logical brain would—if it had a vote.
3. Social media is by definition interactive. It engages our attention and senses because it makes demands on us. We are it. By making demands on us, social media interaction turns us into stakeholders. To get Hillary Clinton’s, Ted Cruz’s or anyone else’s announcement that that they are in the race for president, we had to go out and get that information. In true social media style, we pull it to ourselves by preference or curiosity. In order to see that tweet, we had to search Twitter, read our Twitter or Facebook feeds or check out Instagram. The alternative is to wait for the evening news where we rely on a journalist’s synopsis. The story is stripped of any immediacy and rawness. You can’t feel the pulse of the exchange, the excitement of followers or the energy level of the discourse.
4. Social media is hot. In all senses of the word. Beyond hot = popular, I also have heard social media referred to as a hot medium (although lumping social media into one bucket is problematic given the range of differences among platforms and audience roles). But is it “hot”? Marshall McLuhan’s proposed a dichotomy that described the gestalt of a medium has either hot or cool. This media grammar is challenging to apply to social media. It was derived—according to, among others, Janine Marchessault (2005)—from Eastern philosophy and vernacular characterizations of jazz. A hot medium, in his taxonomy, like the big brassy bands of the 1920s, was totally absorbing with little room for participation because it extends a single sense into “high definition.” He considered films and photographs to be hot media. A cool medium with “low definition” left plenty of room for participation because the audience was required to fill in missing information to complete the message.
However we describe social media in terms of temperature and definition, it’s clear that it doesn’t leave plenty of room for participation but demands it. Nevertheless, it is also a compelling and absorbing extension of self. Oh, if Marshall were with us now.
5. Social media is not about a single platform. It’s about the flow of information across networks and platforms. It’s about creating an immersive story. Social media has been a massive disrupter of all kinds of things. In no way has it been more disruptive than in how we think about communication and tools. We have, since the printing press, expected a medium to stay put. To keep itself to itself. Like placing a 3-month-old baby on on the floor. You were pretty sure that when you came back, it would be where you left it. Initially, when you mentioned social media, people thought of it as a single thing, like Facebook or My Space. Then maybe Twitter or YouTube.
Not now. Social media is like tracking a four-year-old, with information running hither and yon, traveling under, over and across sometimes without apparent rhyme or reason. That fluidity and uncertainty is also its power. Everything is connected in nonlinear ways. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, web pages, SnapChat, YouTube, Periscope, MeerKat—you name it. For skilled storytellers, these platforms allow the creation of an immersive environment where, little by little—they hope—you become immersed in the candidate’s story.
Marchessault, J. (2005). Marshall McLuhan. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Previously published in Psychology Today on Positively Media.