22 06 2012

I said it back in 2008, and I will say it again today: social media can be used to win elections. President Obama’s staff masterminded the then-early use of social media to propel him to the White House, merrily tweeting away while opponent McCain was still trying to figure out email. More recently, the Troy MI Library was saved through the spectacularly effective use of social media to save itself. Here, watch the video:



What I find amazing is that, while the Tea Partiers framed the issue as one of taxation, the Library and its supporters used tweets, status updates, and videos along with old-fashioned yard signs, flyers and print ads to reframe a small tax increase as a book burning. And did it ever catch people’s attention.

Regardless of your political affiliations (or aspirations), it is very clear that the Tea Party sees the world primarily through the lens of taxation. Thus, they will seek to frame nearly every issue as just that. It is a strategy that speaks to the pocketbooks of most Americans. But, as opponents in Troy found out, it is a strategy that is easily flipped on its side by tactical reframing.

A book burning speaks to us on an emotional and intellectual level, which is precisely what the Library group desperately wanted and needed to do. While the notion of the book burning in this case was a subterfuge, in the arena of public attention, their megaphone was louder.

Better yet, their use of social media allowed the Library supporters to spread their message more virally than just public protests and posters. In so going, they completely “changed the conversation from taxes, taxes, taxes to library, library, library.”

The city library is a symbol of education, as well as the community’s commitment to supporting it. When supporters changed the conversation, they implicitly made the Tea Partiers look like they were anti-education and anti-knowledge. That’s a hard image to overcome, no matter how much the tax increase might be.

And it is not a whole lot different from how the Obama camp made McCain look four years ago: uncool, old and chained to an analog past. Furthermore, both the Library campaign and Obama’s campaign managed to get the least likely voters out to the polling place: the tax supporters in the case of the former, and young adults in the latter.

Most importantly, though, is that both instances show the power of social media. While the playing field may be a little more even this time around in the Presidential election, there are still opportunities to seize the microphone. As for the residents of Troy, I am glad that someone did. While libraries are necessarily in a state of transition now as the public and books all go digital, they are still the storehouse of all things knowledge. The thought of shutting one down just burns me up.

Dr “Binding Decision” Gerlich



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