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Now browsing: Hometown News > News > Brevard County

Leaders say social media played role in campaigns
Rating: 2.87 / 5 (31 votes)  
Posted: 2012 Nov 16 - 06:35

 Newly elected officials explain the use of Facebook in gaining votes

 By Meagan McGone


BREVARD - According to a report by Nielsen, social media websites account for a quarter of the time that Americans spend on the Internet.

To be specific, Americans spend more time on Facebook than any other website, according to the report.

So this election season, it was no surprise that local candidates ramped up their campaigns via Facebook, using the social media giant to post endorsements, interact with voters and request support.

Heather Broome, daughter of Kathy Meehan, who was elected the next mayor of Melbourne, managed her mother's Facebook page. "Kathy Meehan Melbourne Mayor" racked up more than 100 Facebook "likes."

"It helped our campaign tremendously," Ms. Broome said. "People who 'liked' her page could share it easily with their friends and family to get the word out."

In addition to spreading news through Facebook, Ms. Meehan's supporters also exercised traditional methods of campaigning. They stuck signs in the ground, waved to passersby, handed out flyers, sent out mailers, held events and made appearances in the community.

But Ms. Broome said Facebook's ability to engage others made using it more effective than a website page and other means of traditional marketing.

"Facebook was free, easier and engaging," Ms. Broome said. "We had more feedback and were able to interact with more people. It was also more personable than just a page with information."

Ms. Meehan, who manages Meehans' Office Products, won the race for mayor of Melbourne against Mark LaRusso, owner of Paper and Plastics Direct, LLC. Both held previous experience serving on the Melbourne City Council.

Mr. LaRusso also used social media to boost his campaign, posting on his personal Facebook page to interact with his 1,300 "friends." But despite his potential for a wider Facebook reach, Ms. Meehan obtained 2,607 more votes than Mr. LaRusso on Election Day, according to www.votebrevard.com.

A similar situation occurred in the campaigns of Anne Herzog and Dave Netterstrom, who both ran for mayor of Cocoa Beach. Though Ms. Herzog's campaign page gained 447 "likes" on Facebook compared to Mr. Netterstrom's 377, Mr. Netterstrom was voted the next mayor of Cocoa Beach by 910 votes.

"My opponent and I used Facebook extensively," Mr. Netterstrom said. "It was a very interesting tool to put messages out there and see what kind of response I could get. The website was a good way to tell ideas and platforms, but you don't get any feedback. With Facebook, you get feedback, both good and bad, rather quickly. People could also ask direct questions about their concerns and issues, and I was able to respond."

He said one of the downsides to using Facebook is that sometimes, it gives people a platform to project negativity.

"It was so easy for people to say bad things or throw the usual mud," Mr. Netterstrom said. "Emotions are difficult to control, and, since Facebook is so live, people just say the craziest things."

At times, he said he would wait before carefully responding to avoid reacting poorly.

But the negative comments were the most difficult for his family, he said.

"The candidates usually have thick skin and expect some negative comments, but family members see it and want to step in and defend, or attack back," he said. "Of course, this only makes the situation worse, since everyone knows that (he or she) is a family member trying to protect (his or her) family name. I had to tell my mom and kids to not get upset, and to please not comment on any Facebook page."

Oscar Serrano, who, as a Cocoa Beach resident, followed the race between Anne Herzog and Dave Netterstrom on Facebook, said it was interesting to see how the candidates embraced the technology.

"They realized - motivated by others' examples - that there are new and innovative ways to reach and interact with existing and potential new voters," Mr. Serrano said. "Both mayoral candidates invested on Facebook with ad campaigns and sponsored stories. I saw their levels of fans going double in a few weeks, and many fans (gave) feedback to the stories they posted as well. While it is impossible to state (if Mr. Netterstrom's) position in social media helped in his final victory, it is for sure it added up and helped him build awareness and send his message to a broader audience."

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