WV political campaigns embrace new communication methods - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

WV political campaigns stick to traditional communication methods while embracing new ones

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In a world where people use social media more than telephones, it could be hard to see how political campaigns are still sticking to traditional methods to get their messages out.

But they are.

Conrad Lucas, chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party, and Derek Scarbro, executive director of the West Virginia Democratic Party, said candidates on both ends of the political spectrum are still picking up the telephone and knocking on doors to connect with voters.

"All of our candidates knock on doors and make phone calls to voters," Lucas said. "One-on-one contact is, and will always be, the best mode of communication from a candidate to a voter."

Additionally, voters are still asking for bumper stickers and yard signs to show their support for candidates. Chad Holland, executive director of the West Virginia Republican Party, said the party ordered thousands of Mitt Romney yard signs, but all of them were taken within a month. In early October, the wait time to receive more Romney signs was two weeks.

However, Scarbro said it seems as if fewer voters are asking for signs and stickers. That may be partly because the Democratic Party encourages candidates to spend their resources elsewhere, mainly on advertisements.

"We kind of encourage our candidates to spend  less resources on things like that and spend more of their resources making sure they communicate their message to the voters," he said. "We actively encourage our candidates to make sure they're spending more of their time and money in their campaigns communicating their message, their platform, their ideas and making sure they get that out to voters in the form of TV ads, radio ads, mail, brochures. It is possible you may see a decrease in the amount of stickers, signs and trinket type stuff for campaigns. Part of that is because we're trying to make sure our candidates talk to the voters about the issues. We think that's more important."

But younger voters are typically more attracted to social media forums such as Facebook and Twitter. Cartney McCracken, a social media strategist and client relations manager with Rainmaker, said smart candidates take advantage of social media and the voters those forums target.

"In the world of smartphone politics, voters are constantly connected to campaigns from iPhone apps to Pandora ads to promoted tweets," McCracken said. "For candidates, social media allows them a unique opportunity to be constantly connected to voters, giving them top-of-the-mind awareness that's a critical competitive advantage."

Another advantage, McCracken said, is social media allows candidates to target specific groups of voters and open up a "digital dialogue" on issues that voting block may see as important. Those discussions offer more insight than does scientific polling, McCracken said.

Both Lucas and Scarbro said their parties use social media to reach voters. Lucas said he has encouraged Republican candidates to use social media as much as possible.

"This allows our candidates to have one-on-one communication with the voters, which allows a deeper and broader relationship between the voters and the candidates that will serve them," Lucas said. "As the state party, we place heavy emphasis on social media and are proud to far outpace Democrats in our Facebook presence."

Scarbro said social media is helpful because candidates can convey a broader message and give voters far more information than they could on a sticker or sign.

"Social media, Facebook and Twitter are free resources to any campaign and a more important medium," Scarbro said. "It's just going to grow in importance. It's easy to put a video on your social media site, your website, your campaign's YouTube page, and communicate a great deal more information to voters than you could ever convey on a sticker or on a sign."

Despite the push on social media, candidates still take advantage of traditional media, specifically television ads. The Center for Individual Freedom, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, recently spent $1.59 million in ad buys for the attorney general race. The organization supports Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey. The Republican Governors Association has also spent big money in West Virginia on TV ads in support of gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney. According to the Associated Press, non-candidate spending on television ads has topped $5.2 million in West Virginia. 

However, those ads typically only show one side of the issue, whereas social media allows for a conversation, McCracken said. The candidates she represents use social media to respectfully engage voters and offer more insight into their characters.

"Social media is a conversational platform that fosters discussions between candidates and voters," McCracken said. "The candidates I work for conduct themselves respectfully online and offline, always holding themselves to high standard regardless of who they're speaking with."

As the world becomes more and more consumed with technology, are the more traditional campaign methods going to fall by the wayside? Probably not so soon, party representatives say.

"Traditional campaign methods, like yard signs and bumper stickers, are still very important," Lucas said. "It has been impossible to keep Romney/Ryan yard signs and bumper stickers in our offices. As soon as they arrive, people grab them up with fervor."

Meanwhile, Democrats continue to rely on direct communication with voters.

"Sometimes that personal touch is more powerful than any campaign ad anyone might see on TV," Scarbro said.