A number of deep thinkers have already commented on the role of social media in tonight's Iowa Caucuses. Of course, the "world has changed utterly and forever" school of thought has chimed in claiming essentially that email networks may be trumping tv ads. My buddy Brad has talked about how these magnificent emails don't really offer value to voters but instead see social media as a huge ATM. Geoff Livingston gives a solid rundown on a number of related items, including a WaPo article that describes Senator Obama's "innovative" use of social netwok tools like Facebook to jumpstart a Get Out The Vote machine that focuses on the younger, college-age crowd that is really key to his success.
The Obama campaign is clearly betting that those college kids that go to school in Iowa actually live in Iowa, since most if not all colleges are still on winter break. But it's an interesting idea - since the campuses that would serve as GOTV staging areas and rallying points are closed, go virtual. Will these youngsters participate in a physical process with only virtual prodding? We'll see.
The one thing that I'm still flabbergasted about is the amount of money many campaigns, but particularly the Democrats, are putting into Iowa. It's not just unprecedented, it's astronomical. TV ad spending is working out to about $500,000 PER DELEGATE. The Obama campaign has spent about $9millon on its own.
This tells me two things. First, the campaigns still clearly believe that television is the most effective means to get their messages out. Social media is still being used by most (if not all) of the campaigns as little more than fancy direct mail (yes, Brad, Ruffini is right). The Iowa broadcasters love this because they're cleaning up. Seriously, states are going to push even harder for earlier primary and caucus dates for the economic impact alone.
Second - and this is the larger issue - Iowa is demonstrating that the campaigns are more beholden to money than ever before. McCain-Feingold reformed virtually nothing. The campaigns resemble telethons more every day. Who thought Governor Huckabee's experience as a "televangelist" gave him hands-on training for a presidential campaign?
I'm not sure it's right to regulate away campaign ad spending any more than it's right to regulate away free speech. But our campaign system is pay-to-play.
I'm not necessarily advocating this, but what would happen if the broadcasters were restricted in what they could charge for airtime for political ads? They'd probably dry up completely - broadcasters would take the higher-priced ads for consumers. And that might force the campaigns to add the value Brad is talking about. And the campaigns would likely look at social media as a primary tool to do it.