Candidates use Facebook, Twitter, others to reach voters

Jordan Walker keeps up with election issues every day on her Blackberry. Walker, 22, and many of her friends follow the campaigns via Internet networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

"About six months ago, some of my friends couldn't have told you who was running for Congress," said Walker, a recent graduate of Wichita State University. "Now they're like, 'Do you know so-and-so? Well, they're running for Congress.' And they can talk about them."

Following the lead of President Obama's successful use of the Web in 2008, local and state candidates are now tweeting their messages, posting photos on Flickr and talking to voters on YouTube videos.

If these names sound foreign, then you are missing a form of communication that is eclipsing the telephone. This spring, the New York Times said industry studies show more people use their cell phones to send text messages, access the Internet and converse through social media than to make calls.

The candidates know this.

All but two of the seven candidates for the 4th Congressional District seat are using social networking to circulate their messages.

"It's not so much about getting out the message as getting people involved," said Scott Paradise, the 22-year-old campaign manager for Republican Wink Hartman. "It's great because they can go on the Facebook page, ask questions and you answer them. They become engaged."

Even e-mail is old school.

"I don't know how I get on these e-mail lists, but I started getting about five or six a day from all these candidates," Walker said. "I've asked several not to do it, and I don't get a response.

"But I can go on another candidate's Facebook page, get a response. I think if they can't handle a little issue like e-mail, what are they going to do with bigger issues when they're elected?"

Through social networks, people choose whether to become a "fan," a "friend" or "follow" a candidate.

"It's a lot less intrusive. You're engaging people who want to be engaged," said Josh Wells, campaign manager for Republican Mike Pompeo. "We're learning new ways to use social media every day to extend our reach of supporters. We've had people request yard signs on Facebook."

Keys to use

But there are right ways, and wrong ways, to use the media.

"I've seen a lot of people set up a Facebook page or Twitter account, then they don't use it right," said Cindy Kelly, a Wichita resident who studies the psychology of social media. "Either they don't use it regularly, and I forget about it, or they are just annoying."

Kelly counts sending unsolicited friend requests on Facebook as among the annoyances.

"I kept getting friend requests from someone and didn't even know he was running for anything," she said. "You can easily send a personal message that tells me why you're friending me."

Kelly said the key to using social media is to post regular updates and make them relevant to voters.

"I think Raj Goyle is really one of the ones who is doing it right," Kelly said of the Democratic congressional contender.

Robert Becker, senior adviser to Goyle, said social media is not much different from knocking on voters' doors, which politicians have been doing for years.

"Twenty-five years ago, you knocked on door No. 1 and went from there," Becker said. "With Facebook and Twitter, you get your profile going, people find you, share it with their friends and you slowly build your network.

"We're just trying to find new and creative ways to invite people into our campaign," Becker said. "Rule No. 1 is don't be boring."

Attracting younger voters

Walker finds Facebook is reaching to her across party lines.

She's a registered Democrat, but she's found herself particularly drawn to Jean Schodorf, a Republican, through her conversations on Facebook.

"One thing I like about her is I know when I asked a question it'll be answered, if not by her by one of her volunteers," Walker said. "I know she's not paying someone to write good things about her. And they get back to you right away."

Jean Schodorf's daughter, Kelly, runs the social media end of her mother's campaign, and said the Kansas state senator personally responds to the questions posted by people on Facebook.

"She's out campaigning all day, so it's not like she can be checking Facebook all the time, but at the end of the day, I'll give her the questions and she answers them," Kelly Schodorf said.

Kelly Schodorf, 22, said the campaign's social networking has encouraged other young people to register to vote.

Walker said she's also followed the blog of Jim Anderson, another Republican congressional hopeful. And she follows Hartman's Facebook page.

"When it comes to politics, I hear people talk about making their decisions based on what others tell them," Walker said. "I want to hear it from the candidates themselves. I want to get to know them. Then I'll make a decision."

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