Social media’s key role in the Aquino Philippines presidential campaign
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Social media’s key role in the Aquino Philippines presidential campaign

Much is often said and written of the potential for social media in government, yet few high profile examples are typically cited beyond the Barack Obama US campaign in 2008. However, from the Philippines, the example of new President Benigno Aquino III’s campaign is one further example worth noting, particularly for the potential of new media outside of the west.

First, a little background. For social media to be an effective campaign tool, it must be widely adopted by the voting public. Social networking is huge in the Philippines with more than 16,000,000 Facebook users4 million Filipinos on Twitter and “over 90 percent of internet users in the Philippines on Friendster”. The quote below comes from the Digital Media Across Asia wiki providing more substance (despite being a little dated):

 

Filipinos are social animals: 8 of the TOP 10 sites in the Philippines have a social component (Source: Alexa, October 2009) while 83.1% of internet users in the Philippines have ever created a social network profile, much higher than the global average of 58.5%. 

 

It is fair to say, therefore, that social media is well used in the country.

President Aquino’s campaign began on a limited budget with him a relatively low-profile candidate. However, the campaign tapped into the country’s growing usage of social media to propel him into the race and, ultimately, come over the line first as this Inquirer article outlines:

Ever wondered how President Benigno Aquino III’s campaign team emerged successful even as it started with a limited budget and campaign time? 

Its strategy – new media.

Limcaoco said that Facebook became the focus of the team as those who logged on considered the social networking site something “they had to own.”

Taking its cue from then Senator Barrack Obama’s own presidential campaign in 2008, Melissa Limcaoco, operations head of the New Media Bureau of Aquino’s campaign group, said using new media helped them gather supporters nationwide through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter at minimal cost.

Facebook, for example, became a campaign tool for the team as it channeled its volunteers to a single account, later beefing up its online presence by also setting up accounts in Friendster, Twitter, and Multiply before make its official campaign website, said Limcaoco at the 4th Search Engine Marketing Conference (SEMCON) 2010 last week.

Having established that Facebook and other social media were an important ‘touch point’ for the campaign, how where they used?

The Aquino campaign on the web engaged users by posting questions, allowing the followers to put up videos of Aquino they took themselves, and updating them about the campaign’s progress, Limcaoco said.

But more than providing an opportunity to unite and ask questions, social media has the potential to break down barriers and provide a platform to engage with the public on a scale that has never been possible before.

Social media can equip politicians, and their teams, with the tools to reach out, gather and answer questions, canvass opinion, and provide the public with a new level of access to information and much more. However, engagement is key and as such social media site must be well staffed and resourced to ensure they are visible to the public and that feedback and responses are gathered and responded to, as the article continues on to address:

New media is full of potential but monitoring it is essential” Limcaoco told participants, adding, “To optimize the use of these social networking sites, the team has to develop strategies to reach more people and gain more followers, pay attention to timing, start conversations by posting questions, and use keywords.

But Limcaoco said there was a need to monitor social media because “it could be dangerous.”

She cited how the personal Twitter account of Aquino was put up accidentally by his representative during the campaign period.

Limcaoco said that they had to get someone else to tweet about the Aquino’s campaign progress for him since he had no time to personally post them because of his hectic schedule.

The team was able to resolve the issue because it was monitoring the campaign online, Limcaoco said, adding that the representative quickly explained the mistake.

Limcaoco also said that answering issues was a priority in political campaigns and stressed that allowing the issue to continue unexplained would only aggravate the situation.

Their campaign team also kept changing online advertisements and noted the public’s reception and comments about the ads, to make sure they were getting the most from their efforts, Limcaoco said.

Though it is not as high profile as Obama 2008 and perhaps not as dramatic a campaign – US Presidential campaigns are planned years in advance and the Obama victory is particularly significantly for the arrival of the first non-white President – but the Aquino 2010 campaign is a further case-study, and display of the potential for new media in politics, which should not be forgotten simply because it took place outside of the western side of the world.