Just before last fall's mid-term elections, Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate had more than 1.43 million fans on Facebook, compared with just less than 300,000 for Democrats, according to HeadCount.org. On Twitter, Republican Senatorial candidates collectively counted 520,000 followers, far more than the 90,000 followers of Democratic candidates.
As Republicans and Democrats work to increase their social networking chops before the 2012 presidential election, social networks are positioned to play a critical role.
"Social networking will almost certainly play a huge role in the 2012 elections. But it's a double-edged sword," cautioned Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group.
Candidates may be thrilled with the power of social networking but they need to remain wary of it as well, Olds said.
"It can be used to push out a candidate's message inexpensively and directly to potential voters and supporters," he explained. "It can also help them mobilize their troops and quickly spread news and information. But, if the wrong message goes out, like a gaff, social networking will spread that far and wide too."
He added that people frequently make big, messy mistakes online, embarrassing the person they're trying to help or releasing the wrong information.
"Candidates also need to make sure their tweets and Facebook postings are being vetted by someone who knows what they're doing," said Olds, adding that online town halls can be "hugely persuasive."
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