Candidates turn to Facebook, Twitter to connect
September 15, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Issaquah candidates have turned to the Web to sell their campaigns since the start of the Internet age. Now, with seven weeks until Election Day, City Council and school board hopefuls have broadened and refined strategies to reach voters.
Candidates deploy campaign messages across Web sites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Moreover, they use Facebook updates and Twitter posts to introduce themselves to voters, highlight policy positions, marshal volunteers, raise money and tout endorsements.
The use of social media sites Facebook and Twitter in local races has grown since the last citywide election two years ago. Both sites are still new: Facebook launched in 2004; Twitter began in 2006.
Still, candidates said they prefer to contact voters face to face.
“Woe be unto the candidate who thinks they can do it all through cyberspace,” City Council candidate Tola Marts said. “They’re in for a surprise Nov. 3.”
Nathan Perea, vying against Marts for the Position 7 seat, described his experience as “balancing the whole new world of social media and trying to be a real and traditional candidate.”
Reach out and tweet someone
Marts and Perea use Facebook and Twitter. The candidates post frequent updates to both sites to rally supporters and offer updates about campaign activities. Perea, in fact, tweeted about being interviewed for this article.
Marts and Perea described their respective Facebook supporters as a mix of longtime friends and people met along the campaign trail.
“A lot of those are people that I’ve known for 25 years that are stoked that I’m running,” Marts, 40, said.
Although younger voters may be more comfortable with social media sites, both candidates said they had attracted supporters from several age groups.
“My generation is in a unique position, because I can remember a time when the Internet and e-mail weren’t around,” Perea, 31, said.
In the other contested council race, candidates Maureen McCarry and Joan Probala turned to Facebook to connect with voters.
McCarry was elected to the Position 5 seat in 2005. She said advances in technology have allowed her to manage a campaign Web site on her own.
“Both with Facebook and with the Web site, I think the last four years have been incredible,” McCarry said.
Probala said establishing a Web presence was a top priority when she launched her campaign. She credits her experience as a real estate agent with helping her learn to use the Web to sell — in this case — her candidacy.
Facebook tells you “the word is getting out there and you hear from your supporters,” Probala said. She uses her campaign page to let supporters know about events and tell them in which neighborhoods she will canvass voters.
McCarry said Facebook has made it easier for her to contact supporters and voters without access to other contact information.
“It’s so much easier to contact people without their exact e-mail address,” McCarry said.
Forging an identity
Both Issaquah School Board Director District 2 candidates have campaign Web sites and Facebook accounts. Facebook is also where voters will see the biggest difference in the school board candidates’ approach to social networking.
“A Web site for a campaign is like a Web site for a business, you almost can’t be in business without one,” candidate Wright A. Noel said. “It is a freeway to get content out to people for free.”
Candidates also said they limit the number of platforms to deliver their pitch to voters as a way to prevent their messages from becoming muddled.
“I’d rather meet people face to face,” candidate Marnie Maraldo said. “These are great tools, but they can’t compete with meeting voters and hearing what they have to say and their concerns in person.”
For Maraldo, Facebook started as a personal page, but when she filed as a candidate, she said she was accumulating new friends who may not want know about a weekend trip to Whidbey Island, she said.
“One thing I hadn’t done before is to create a category of lists, which list what people are allowed to see what,” she said. “That was a lesson I learned when I stopped to think that some people may not want to see me with no makeup and with my kids camping.”
Since then, she started a Facebook page dedicated to the campaign. Noel, however, joined Facebook to aid his campaign.
“It started out being a page that was intended to help the campaign, but evolved into a personal page where people that know me, like friends from high school and on up, can find me,” he said. “There are pictures of me and my family and it is a way to remind people that I know that I’m running for school board, and to ask them to talk to their friends about me and look at my Web site.”
Facebook favorites — and follies
Marts said it can be easy to overstate the effectiveness of social media sites, but said Facebook had helped him connect with supporters he might not have met otherwise.
Although candidates said Web sites helped direct supporters to donate, they said old-fashioned pleas for cash remained the most effective.
“If somebody’s going to offer you money, you want to be there in person to thank them for it,” Perea said.
Maraldo has raised about $400 from her campaign site. Noel said he was not sure about how much money he pulled in through the site, but said it was probably a couple of hundred dollars.
Regardless of how they use the Web, candidates said it would not mean changes in efforts to reach voters through other forms of media, such as fliers, mailers and yard signs. Candidates and political leaders said social media has limitations.
5th District Democrats Chairwoman Jennifer Sutton cautioned candidates eager to use the Web as a campaigning and fundraising tool.
“You’re not Barack Obama,” she said.
King County GOP Executive Director Jason Brown said his organization encouraged local candidates to familiarize themselves with the Web and especially social media sites. He said candidates are cautioned to avoid gaffes when posting items to Facebook or tweeting.
“You have to ask, would you want to see this on the front page of a newspaper?” Brown said.