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Instagramming the Campaign

With the 2012 Presidential election quickly approaching, President Barack Obama is using Instagram  and other forms of social media as a part of his campaign.

With millions of users and a loyal fan base, Instagram is one of the most popular iPhone apps on the market. Not surprisingly, Apple named it the “iPhone App of the Year” for 2011, and early last month Instagram added its most popular member to date: President Barack Obama.

For those who are unfamiliar with the app, Instagram is “a fun and quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures,” according to the application’s website. Users take a picture with their iPhone camera, and then choose a vintage filter to turn the photo into an artistic creation. Afterwards, they can share it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Flickr and Posterous.

Obama’s account, which is run by his staff, currently has more than 200,000 followers. Other Instagram users can also share photos with his account using the hashtag #Obama2012. The photos on Obama’s account include pictures of the president himself and Vice President Joe Biden, as well as supporters and snapshots from his campaign trail.


Obama has had a huge social media presence since his last campaign in 2008. His Facebook page has nearly 25.5 million “likes,” and his Twitter has more than 12 million followers. Holding accounts on Tumblr, Google+ and Flickr, Instagram is Obama’s latest step in helping him gain an even louder voice on the social media circuit.

Boston University Assistant Professor of Public Relations Edward Downes said he sees social media as an effective tool for Obama.

“I think it’s good for two reasons,” Downes said. “First, because Obama can easily attract the population and the type of people who are predisposed to being receptive to [social media]. Second, he can use this new media with all the advantages it provides and all of a sudden there’s a brand new channel.”

However, Downes said he warned against over-reliance on new media. The purpose of Obama using social media so extensively is to pull in votes, and Downes said if they are not doing their job then Obama risks losing track of what is important.

“The most basic purpose [of using social media] is to get votes. The question to ask is, ‘Do these media get me votes?’ And if they do, then they’re helpful,” he said.


Political Science Professor Douglas Kriner said, “Part of the battle in campaign space is trying to subsidize information for individuals.”

Kriner said social media is a great way for Obama to get his message across without using a lot of money.

“A lot of people are what we call in political science, ‘rationally ignorant,’” he said. “If the president can reach out to individuals and inform them of what he is doing and try to build support, social media is a very costless way of reaching out that could potentially be helpful.

“The president is very good at selling Barack Obama, as he showed us in 2008 – so why not [use social media]?” Kriner asked. “I don’t see any downside to it so why not be everywhere?”


Demarius Walker, a College of Arts and Sciences junior and president of BU’s chapter of “Democracy Matters,” said social media is a great way for people interested in politics to easily follow politicians.

“It works for political junkies like me who like to follow the inside movements of a campaign,” Walker said via email.

College of General Studies sophomore Felicia Aguiar said Obama’s style of campaigning is effective for the younger demographic.

“It’s good if he wants to connect with younger people since everyone is on the Internet now, and if you’re not on the Internet, you’re very behind. It’s a good strategy,” she said.

Kriner said he agrees Obama is targeting a specific age group.

“Polls that were taken seem to suggest his advantage among young voters is eroding,” he said, “and this is a way to reach back out and to connect in a way that doesn’t cost the president much money.”


Social media seems to be an effective campaigning method because it addresses a large audience in a very cost-effective way.  However, some said they feel social media is not a very professional form of communication for Obama.

CAS freshman Abby Pelts said while she thinks it is effective, she would rather see Obama’s messages through more legitimate media outlets.

“I do think it’s effective, but my personal opinion is it’s [also] unprofessional. No president has ever gone this far with things like these,” Pelts said. “Instead of him being more of a friend, I should see him as a leader. With Twitter, I do have two different sides: Of course it gets to the younger people because I’m on Twitter every day, but at the same time I’d rather see him on the news.”

College of Communication graduate student Jimmy Barker said he disagrees.

“I actually don’t follow him [on social media], but I can only see positive ramifications for him to spread his message or just to simply remind people to keep his campaign and his push for re-election in their thoughts and their newsfeeds,” he said.

Walker also said social media is a good way of reminding people about the president’s message, and it allows Obama to directly get his message across to the general public without it being misinterpreted in any way.

“I think that mostly what he is achieving is reminding people that he is around,” Walker said. “Social media is good for him because it allows the White House to directly communicate with people as opposed to having to go through the media where his message can get distorted.”


Social media is quickly changing the way we receive information. Similar to the newspaper industry, some are worried the Internet will eventually take over more traditional types of media. However, neither Downes nor Kriner said they see it happening any time soon.

“I think it’s already begun to replace traditional media, but to put it in context, it’s just a different format,” Downes said. “Yes, you are losing the physical [traditional] media, but the information can just go online so you’re not really losing it.”

Kriner said he agrees and said using social media to campaign would never replace traditional modes of campaigning.

“It will increasingly become a presence, but sometimes the efficacy of a technological innovation in campaigning can go down over time,” he said. “A method is effective because it’s so new, and people are drawn to it. Once it becomes routine, it just becomes more white noise in the background.”

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