As social media tastes change, can campaigns keep up?

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Tumblr may be the Twitter of the 2012 campaign season.


In 2008 and 2010, Twitter was the social media drug of choice. The site and its 140 character posts steadily engulfed the political world after its inception five short years ago. Members began tweeting with sometimes embarrassing frequency. Think Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) pinging her followers during President Obama’s February 2009 address to Congress.

It has only gotten worse. Now, 80 percent of elected officials in Washington are on Twitter, according to one estimate. It is officially more popular among the political elite than it is among the social media-happy Millennial generation.

Still, it’s quite possible Twitter will have some competition next November as Tumblr continues its evolution in the social and political media world. The micro-blogging network, a cross between a traditional blogging platform and Twitter, has grown by 900 percent over the past year and now has more than 33 million active users - making it the largest blogging community online.

Just like a traditional blog, Tumblr users draft their posts, which tend to be multimedia-heavy, and publish them to their official page for others to view them and leave comments. What makes the site resemble Twitter or Facebook is the Dashboard feature. Located on the home page, the Dashboard provides a place for users to see their friends' posts in a newsfeed format without having to go to each users' individual page for updates. In the same way Twitter users can conduct a hashtag search for specific topics, Tumblr also allows its users to search for specific tags, such as “politics” or Occupy Wall Street.

Tumblr users tend to be more likely to fit a specific demographic profile than those of Facebook and Twitter. Three-quarters of all Tumblr users are white, 60 percent don't have children and only two percent of all Tumblr users – the so-called “addicts” – make up 40 percent of all posts.

Politically, Tumblr’s users skew to the left, with large communities on Tumblr for progressives and feminists. Tumblr is also the main social network used by those participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement – the page “We are the 99 percent” is filled with pictures and stories of protestors. Many major media outlets, including Politico, Mother Jones and National Journal, also have Tumblr sites.

Tumblr counts among its most popular users several Hollywood celebrities and Barack Obama himself. Launched this past October, Obama's Tumblr page serves as his official campaign blog and already includes videos of the president, answers to voters' questions, submissions from supporters and more.

Obama may be the only candidate currently using Tumblr, but that doesn't mean that it will stay that way. Four years ago presidential candidates from both parties focused their cyber energies on MySpace; it was the first social network to host a major presidential primary debate. Yet MySpace never adapted to the changing world of social media and is now virtually as obsolete as chat rooms.

There are similar websites out there, such as Pinterest, which have attempted to but failed to make a dent in Tumblr’s core audience. All the signs point to Tumblr being the next big competitor to Facebook and Twitter, and who knows, perhaps it may pass them in popularity one day in the not-so-distant future.

Katie LaPotin is an account executive at Advocacy Ink, a full-service public relations, communications and political consulting firm in Alexandria, Va. Previously, she worked at a Republican polling firm and on several campaigns in southeastern Pennsylvania.


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