A recent study shows that a nonpartisan “Get Out the Vote” Election Day message put out by Facebook during the 2010 Congressional election generated 340,000 additional votes. Facebook sent out this message to all U.S. users 18 and older. Users could click on an “I Voted” button after which their profile pics would appear to friends, and friends of friends indicating they had voted.
While the percentage of these Facebook-influenced votes is small compared to the number of people who voted nationwide—.37%—winning or losing can be determined by tiny slices of the electorate. The 2000 presidential election was decided by less than 0.01% of the vote in Florida.
Researchers determined that it was that Facebook moment of seeing that a friend (or a friend of a friend) had voted that inspired those 340,000 to go vote themselves. It’s what is known as the “social contagion effect” in which a community’s power multiplies, influencing behavior of more and more individuals.
Just as Facebook increased voter participation by encouraging interaction among their users, the superacheivers we interviewed for our book stressed the critical importance of building a community to achieve a goal We heard this over and over. From a teen circumnavigator to a succesful blogger, from a rock band to a war photographer, they actively sought communities with networks as large as possible that could include customers, investors, advertisers, fans, fellow enthusiasts, critics and even competitors.
But back to the election. It’s only a matter of time before campaign operatives figure out how to capitalize on the huge social reach of Facebook’s communities to influence elections. Or alternatively will it be the actual members of the social media communities themselves who determine who’s sitting in the Oval Office?
Lately we’ve spent a lot of time holed up in our NYC apartment, perched on our chairs, eyes glued to our screens as we develop a social media plan for our book. But this afternoon we took a break to meet with and get some advice from Jen van der Meer, innovation strategist, who just happens to be a neighbor from around the corner. And when we asked Jen the best way to reach blog editors and other potential influencers she said,
“Follow them on Twitter, find out where they live and if you’re in the same town, ask if they’ll meet you.”
Really? Instead of emailing someone a proposal, leave home and actually meet them? That sounds so…pre-Internet!
In fact Jen’s suggestion reminded us of the counterintuitive advice we got from one of the biggest boosters of social media, the business guru and former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki. When we interviewed Guy for our book he told us,
“Pressing the flesh is the best way to create relationships, so get out of your chair and jump into the analog world…. Get close enough to people that they become your fan and they love what you do so much that they camp overnight in front of your store to be the first person to buy your iPhone.”
But meeting and relating to people requires emotional risk—the possibility of performance anxiety, the sting of rejection and blow to your self-esteem. So although it may sometimes be more comfortable to obsessively count your Twitter followers, Facebook fans and likes, we shouldn’t forget that ultimately the most primal and satisfying sort of human interactions (and after all, those that may be most beneficial) are usually face to face.