Social Networking: A Pedestal or Grave?

Sungbong Lee is President of Prain, Ketchum’s exclusive affiliate partner in Korea.

How much influence does social networking have in today’s political campaigns?

Let’s take a look at the recent mayoral election in Korea to find out. Results indicate that social networking in Korea also carries a force larger than what we envision when effective communication with clear conversation comes into play.

Following the resignation of the Seoul mayor over the failure to implement a controversial free school lunch policy, two new mayoral candidates surfaced. The usual political spat and finger pointing began as the election heated up. Who would take the reign as the new Seoul mayor?

The intense election finally was decided on Oct. 26, as civil activist Park Won-soon, 56, the candidate more popular among progressives and the younger generation in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, claimed victory with 53% of the vote against female politician Nah Kyung-won, 47, the favorite among conservative voters in their 50s and above, who claimed 46% of the vote.

Let’s take a look back at the activities leading up to the election. Both parties utilized the growing popularity of social networking by increasing their activities on Twitter. Nah was mentioned on Twitter 8% more than Park. Close analysis of the Twitter activities of both parties reveal that most of Park’s tweets were done voluntarily from his supporters, while most of Nah’s tweets were the works of people from her campaign. At the end of the election, analysis of their Twitter activities show that Park’s official Twitter page had double the activity and followers compared to those of Nah.

As the dust settled from the election, we can see clearly now that Park’s Twitter feed exemplified honest communication and authenticity fueled by his supporters, while Nah’s Twitter seemed to push a forced message by those who were assigned to handle social networking for her campaign. The resulting activities corresponded to the content that was provided.

Although there is no evidence of correlation that the number of Twitter followers directly corresponds to the number of votes that a candidate will get, one thing is clear: honest communication and a thoughtful message make a difference.

What becomes viral is the quality of content and sincerity of the message. As shown from this past Seoul mayoral election, social networking can play the role of a pedestal or a grave. The role that it fulfills will be determined by the authenticity of the message that the candidate and his or her followers provide.