The national election is over, and the winners are...social media and social networks. After having come of age in the 2008 election, the hottest form of media communication has now hit its stride as an electoral tool.
When the history of this period is written, social media will most likely be seen as the technology that changed both how campaigns communicate with voters, and how voters communicate between themselves.
A good beginning for that chapter is the most re-tweeted Twitter post ever, at the moment when President Obama's re-election was announced by the networks -- a photo of Barack and Michelle Obama hugging, under a text that read "Four more years."
That kind of short-and-sweet victory tweet, which was re-sent more than a half-million times, may well become standard for all future election winners. Twitter reported that, as the election was being called, its conversations hit a peak of 327,452 tweets per minute.
New World Order
In another sign of the new world order, a variety of world leaders chose Twitter to congratulate the re-elected president. Great Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron sent "Warm congratulations to my friend @BarackObama," and Malaysian Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard were among those leaders who sent similar tweets.
Most U.S. politicians now regularly broadcast their sentiments to their Twitter followers, on Election Night and at other times, such as Sens.-elect Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, and Ted Cruz, Republican from Texas.
Twitter also offered a Guide to Election Day listing of Twitter accounts for the chief election official in each state, so that followers could get regular updates.
Facebook was again heavily active in the election, not only in the member-to-member communications that take place every second, and not only through the candidate and issue pages that have now become standard campaign fare.
An "I Voted" button at the top of users' newsfeed led to an estimated additional third of a million people voting, after which those users could view a real-time map that kept a running total of the Facebook-tracked voters, and collected such aggregate information as age, gender, and geographical locations.
The site also offered a Find My Polling Place link at the top of users' news feeds, in collaboration with Microsoft's Bing search engine.
A report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, published online Tuesday, found that 22 percent of registered voters have let others know how they voted via a social networking site. Thirty percent said they had been encouraged to vote for Obama or Republican Mitt Romney via social media, and 20 percent said they encouraged others to vote through social channels.
We asked Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, how the use of social media in this national election compared with last time.
'Consensus of Our Friends'
He said that in 2008, "there were more social media initiatives to influence and organize," and, while many of those initiatives have now become standard, this time there is a "lot of maximizing of the tools." As one example, Shimmin pointed to the use of hash tags on Twitter to focus attention on specific issues, such as Romney's claim that Jeep was moving U.S. jobs to China.
He also noted that, "for a certain age group," political information presented through social media is, in fact, the 6:30 pm newscast. "When we look for sources of trusted information," Shimmin said, "the consensus of our friends can be more powerful than that of talking heads on TV."
Shimmin also said that another major new trend, even more advanced than four years ago, is that "everyone becomes their own news publisher," and he expects this development to grow in elections ahead.