Drinking coffee with supporters, kissing babies and debating opponents over social and political issues are key activities for any candidate. But they're just so ... analog.
In 2012, candidates also are making sure they tweet events, post campaign messages and photos to Facebook, allow supporters to check in at rallies on Foursquare and air campaign videos on YouTube.
In less than one presidential election cycle, social media sites have become a key tool for campaigns at the local, state and federal levels.
"Now it is part of the national consciousness," says Chris McCroskey, co-founder of the website TweetCongress, which collects Twitter feeds from member of Congress, allowing the public to find their congressional representative on Twitter. "It is something politicians cannot separate themselves from. I think from here on out, this is what you will see."
Voters saw the Obama campaign and Democrats use online and social media tools effectively during the 2008 presidential election, although many were still relatively unpopular.
"I think that is why you saw a surge in Republicans adopting things like Twitter after 2008 because of how effective the Obama campaign had been," says McCroskey.
By the mid-term elections in 2010, Republicans and members of the Tea Party had caught up to, if not exceeded, the number of Democrats using social media; and so had the American public. Almost a quarter of online adults used Twitter, Facebook or MySpace to connect to campaigns in 2010 or the election, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project.
Although younger voters tend to be "digital natives," McCroskey cautions, older voters still are split between traditional and online media. Candidates who throw all their resources into social media tools could run the risk of missing some voters on the campaign trail.
Friends, Followers and Circles
In 2012, the use of social media in campaigns is expected to continue, increase and evolve.
"People don't realize how important it is to have an online presence. They think it is important, but not necessary," says South Dakota Senator Dan Lederrnan (R). "I think it is the other way around."
Lederman created a social media strategy that included a blog and Facebook page in 2007. He carried those tools onto the campaign trail in 2008 and has since incorporated Twitter, Foursquare, YouTube and Flickr. The reason? To save money and reach more...