Tony Stanislawski is an information technology and social media strategist instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College.
You can follow him on Twitter @tonyatmatc


As election day draws near in Wisconsin, it is interesting to see how the Scott Walker and Mary Burke campaigns have utilized social media. Before we look at these campaigns specifically, let’s look back and see how social media has evolved in previous political election cycles.

The 2008 presidential election was considered the first social media election. Both Barack Obama and John McCain used social media to get their messages out. But for the most part, it was being used as traditional media is used in elections. Both candidates used it to amplify their message. Using social media as a broadcast platform is the most basic method of utilization. However, most social media sites were in their infancy and campaigns did not fully understand how these platforms could drive engagement.

In 2012, the presidential election between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney became the gold standard on how to use social media platforms to drive not only awareness, but engagement among their supporters. The other technology that matured was the ability to target ads on social media sites tailored to their supporters, and even more importantly, to the potential voters sitting on the fence.

The power of social media really lies in engagement. It is the power of friends and family to influence people to get out and vote and to highlight what issues are important to them.  It is generally understood that the winner of the 2012 election, Barack Obama, did a much better job of controlling the social media landscape and therefore increasing engagement with his supporters. It is difficult to proclaim definitive causality between winning and the campaign’s dominance in social media, but no one can argue it did not help him, especially among young voters, the demographic that uses these sites for their main source of news!

The 2014 midterm elections can be considered the first midterm elections where social media has matured. Let’s look at some social media metrics for Mary Burke and Scott Walker.

Mary Burke (as of Oct. 16)

Scott Walker (as of Oct. 16)

The first observation I have is neither campaign is using other social media platforms to engage the voter. Platforms like Instagram, Pinterest ,  Snapchat, Vine and others were used in the 2012 election to great success.

Secondly, Mary Burke, the challenger, has gained more Twitter followers than Governor Walker in a much shorter period of time. Twitter appeals to a younger demographic and encourages more active engagement.

Thirdly, Governor Walker has roughly three times as many Likes on Facebook than Mary Burke.  One would expect this since he has been our governor for four years.

Lastly, it seems both are using the platforms for the most part as a broadcast platform, and not as platform to engage in dialog with their supporters.

After doing this rudimentary analysis of the use of social media in the governor’s race in Wisconsin, it seems both candidates are using it to extend their broadcast reach. Each candidate seems to be putting most resources into television. In a smaller state’s race, candidates are more easily able to personally touch and reach out to their supporters in person, which might explain the limited use of social media platforms by Burke and Walker. Also, the budgets are more limited and candidates have to choose where to spend their resources.

In the end, it seems social media will not play as big a role in the midterm elections in Wisconsin as it did in the 2012 presidential race.  It’s a shame, because it looks like either candidate could have easily taken advantage of these tools to gain a leg up on each other.