Dr. Diana Owen, eM&P’s Research Director and Director of American Studies at Georgetown University, spent the week of July 16 in the Canadian cities of Winnipeg and Ottawa on a fast-paced speaking tour organized by the U.S. Department of State. While there, Dr. Owen met with embassy officials, political leaders, social media practitioners and journalists about social media and U.S. elections. She visited universities in Winnipeg and Ottawa to give lectures at U.S. consulates, as well as attending other events.
On July 16, 2012, she spoke at the U.S. consulate at Ottawa, discussing how social media is being used in 2012 campaigns. Press coverage of her talk centered on her argument that the importance of social media has declined in this campaign cycle in comparison to the 2008 campaign, where it was heralded for engaging voters. Susan Delacourt of the Canadian newspaper The Starnoted her explanation for this is the “newness” of social media wearing off and youth voters not being as enthusiastic for digital media tools as they were in the previous election. Stephanie Levitz of theCanadian Press wrote about how, in her talk, Dr. Owen elaborated that while political election engagement in social media use is down, online tools are still a very important part of campaigns, but that now the personal information data coming from politicians’ followers online is what is most sought after. Rebecca Lindell of Canada’s Global News also picked up on this aspect of Dr. Owen’s talk, detailing how she told the Ottawa audience about campaign micro-targeting techniques, which take the data gathered from followers and then uses that data to create personalized, targeted messages for voters. This is one major source of innovation in social media use in the 2012 campaign.
A videoconference with a diverse group of Canadians took place on Tuesday, July 17, and then on Wednesday, July 18, Dr. Owen sat down with political columnist Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press to talk about social media and the presidential election. “Traditional media, particularly broadcast media and especially television still form the backbone of political media in the U.S. Social media are very important, but feed the broadcast model. They provide information that is broadcast through television,” Owen said. The audience for political media is skewing older, which might help explain why social media aren’t as important this election cycle.
Later that day, Dr. Owen gave a radio interview with 101.5 UMFM Winnipeg’s Internet Pundits Show. On the show, she was asked by Kevin McDougald, blogger of The View from Seven, about whether social media could be used to build trust in government and leaders. Dr. Owen responded “Yes, that’s absolutely right. A student of mine just completed a big thesis that looked at whether you can use social media to build trust in government. She focused on the ways the government might be reaching out to people through agency websites. What she found is that the more interaction that citizens had through social media, but also websites and blogs that are sponsored by the government, the more efficacious – they felt they could influence government and politics – and also, importantly they felt they could trust government.”
Dr. Owen also met with Manitoba Liberal Party Members and Canadian officials before flying back to D.C.