by Abe Sauer
Credit was heaped on social media as the tool that won Obama the 2008 election. The New York Times described it as “an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine…” Some told everyone to take a pill, calling the crediting of social media a “big snake oil spotlight.”
But you knew what would happen anyway: 2012 candidates have certainly rushed to Facebook, along the way proving that some understand the platform better than others.
A candidate’s Facebook gallery can make him or her look more presidential, or less, introduce a family, or showcase the humanity of a person whose very job requires him or her to be soulless.
For example, here’s Democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson, up for reelection in 2012, caring about another human being.
Facebook is also a great place to deflect criticism by portraying your concerns as exactly the opposite of your political focus. For example, here’s Michigan GOP Presidential primary candidate and Congressman Thaddeus McCotter openly caring about children, which is a perfect balance to his 2007 “no” vote for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Or, from his official Facebook page, here’s Wisconsin’s Scott Walker reading to a bunch of black schoolchildren — right around the time that the governor cut hundreds of millions in public school funding.
Your Facebook profile is also a perfect place to create a fictionalized version of your supporters. Here’s incumbent Republican Indiana Senator Dick Lugar with a black kid.
Essentially, a Facebook page can depict a politician as he pretends to be, not as he really is. It is a commonality that pols’ Facebooks are heavy with photos of regular folk interaction and light on, say, meetings with lobbyists. Nobody has an album titled “Fundraising.”
“Issues photos” are also a great add to any office-holder’s Facebook. Here’s concerned Wyoming Senator John Barrasso surveying our porous border from an album titled “Barrasso on the Border.”
Also, Facebook is a great place to feature your participation in the kinds of important, candidacy-defining events the “lamestream” media doesn’t give a whoop about. This means if you’re Thaddeus McCotter, you can create a whole album dedicated to your address at the Victims of Communism Memorial Ceremony.
Or, you can use your profile to tell voters something about yourself that may be awkward in the context of an official campaign event. For example, if you’re recovering alcoholic and Minnesota Congressman Erik Paulsen, add a picture of yourself at a Hazelden clinic.
Facebook is also a great place to highlight your party bona fides. For Republicans, there’s nothing more desirable in a Profile Pictures gallery than a shot of oneself in the same room with His Holiness, Ronald Reagan. Orrin Hatch, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman are so lucky. (Yes, Orrin Hatch has a very active Facebook page.)
It also doesn’t hurt to throw in a few little meta-photo ops, such as yourself with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. For example, from their respective pages, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor pretend like they’re people Zuckerberg consults about things.
Your Facebook profile is also an excellent place to introduce the voting public to the best face of your family. From her profile, here’s New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in a shot that alternatively runs in the October Sears catalog.
But there is such thing as making the family look overly colloquial. Case in point, Ron Paul’s official shot of his family.
Be careful not to be too perfect though, here’s the Christmas Card added to Tim Pawlenty’s profile. Can you tell which one is his wife and which two are the daughters?
See, Michele Bachmann was wise not to upload this photo to her Facebook profile, as it may portray an un-presidential element of the family dynamic. It’s just fine where it is at her husband’s “Meet Dr. Bachmann” clinic page.
There is also the issue of whether or not to allow open comments. Some candidates like Mitt Romney and John Boehner allow no outside wall posts, though they do allow comments. Sarah Palin allows wall posts, though she famously deletes those unfavorable to her.
When it comes to allowing comments, the inability to periodically edit your photos and wall posts could lead to some embarrassments. For example, this photo of Texas Governor and rumored Presidential candidate Rick Perry is accompanied by the comment “WHO HAS 2 THUMBS AND HATES WOMEN???? THESE GUYS!!!!!”
While it’s obvious candidates themselves are too busy, or technologically inept, to work their own Facebook pages, they should take caution to vet the staffers charged with social media profile maintenance. Does a candidate for office of the most powerful position on earth want to be depicted with such impotence as this photo of Tim Pawlenty, which somebody on his campaign actually looked at and said, “Yes: THIS”?
Or how about this one of Rick Santorum, featured in the popular “behind the scenes” genre of pol Facebook pics. Is there a better way to make a man look as small as his ideas?
Then there is this one. It’s bad enough nobody in New Hampshire thought to take down the King Kong poster before Cain spoke. But then it was uploaded to Herman Cain’s official Facebook page by somebody on Herman Cain’s campaign who clearly hates Herman Cain.
But politicians shouldn’t let these pitfalls scare them away from social media. With a little practice, any candidate can learn to have a little fun with it. Just look at what Newt has been uploading.