US party conventions target social media audience

The US Republican and Democratic conventions have traditionally targeted television viewers above all -- but this year's will see an unprecedented effort to reach voters via social media.

In the last presidential election four years ago, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms were not yet the ubiquitous force they are now -- even if Barack Obama was among the first to use online tools in a major way for electoral ends.

It was arguably not until the US mid-term elections in 2010 that social media, including YouTube and Flickr, really took off as key tools in the politicians' communications armory.

The Republican National Convention, which opens in Tampa, Florida on Monday, and the Democratic gathering in Charlotte, North Caroline next month, confirm the trend, with huge teams of staffers dedicated to reaching voters online.

"Wherever you live, whatever device you use, we want you to engage as an active participant in this convention," the convention's chief executive William Harris said last week.

"This convention is about every American's future, and everyone has a stake in it so we created a 'Convention without Walls' to make this the most open and accessible event in history."

In addition to the inevitable Twitter and Facebook pages, both parties have set up stall on YouTube, photo sharing sites Flickr and Pinterest, and the Google + and Foursquare networks, as well as an array of smartphone applications.

In Tampa, a Google Media Lounge created in partnership with the search giant, "will serve as command headquarters for monitoring, engaging and building online community to amplify convention messages," its website said.

An online Conversation Room will also allow speakers to send messages and photos on Twitter and Facebook, or give interviews by Skype, before or after they actually address the convention.

The Democratic National Convention -- whose Facebook page had three times as many "likes" as its Republican equivalent on Friday -- has organized a "Tweetup" in the run-up to the Obama party's talkfest.

It has given a behind-the-scenes look to a group of volunteers at the planning and construction of the convention, inviting them to share their thoughts and photos, online ahead of the September 4-6 convention.

The Democratic gathering's chief executive, Steve Kerrigan, said -- in a video released on YouTube, naturally -- that the Charlotte gathering would be "the most open and accessible one in history."

"That means everything from involving our grassroots to giving those who can't make it to Charlotte during convention week a window into our proceedings, whether it's online, on TV or through social media," he said.

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