(RNN) - The second inauguration of Barack Obama signified the power of social media in the political process and vice versa.
According to Yahoo! News, 1.1 million tweets were sent on Inauguration Day, with a peak of nearly 28,000 tweets per minute. It's a huge increase from the same event four years ago, when just 82,392 tweets were sent, with a peak of 3,210 tweets per minute.
During the elections of 2000 and 2004, social media as we know it was just blossoming and didn't have the power it has today. Before that, barely-there websites, threatening advertising campaigns, friendly appeals and debates were all the public had to judge candidates on.
At every turn, the advent of radio, television and the internet have dramatically changed how politics is presented to voters. Social media is the next big thing.
Politics is the good looking older guy who gets what's going on, sort of. Social media is the young media savvy woman with a type-A personality.
Things like Twitter and Facebook make politics look cool.
"Social media allows politicians to have direct communication with their constituents," said Dr. Marcus Messner, associate professor in the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University. "If the engagement is restricted to publishing press releases, however, the effect is rather limited."
Presidential websites date back to the 1996 Clinton/Dole election. Since then, they have developed into a landing pad on how to best reach the candidate.
The 2008 presidential election, otherwise known as the "Facebook" election, was the first when a social media forum, besides political blogs, mattered. The 2012 presidential election was the "social media" election, with both candidates having numerous accounts on many popular sites.
"No nationwide or statewide campaign can now be successful without a social media campaign," said Messner. "They are always on the lookout for the next social media scoop that drives the conversation of the hour."
These two are a combustible yet suitable couple. The internet can easily make your campaign or break it.
The topics fueling the narrative of the 2004 presidential election were John Kerry's Vietnam record, flip-flopping and Swift Boat captains. In the primary season, Howard Dean's infamous yelp after the Iowa caucuses became a YouTube sensation.
Social media websites like YouTube and MySpace grew, advancing the ability to share thoughts of importance and entertaining as far as politics was concerned. The most important social media tool used was blogging, with journalistic whistle-blowers blowing the cover off biases and creating a sense of checks and balances.
In a political nation where more than half of American voters don't trust what televised news sources were giving them, blogging gave a customized view of what voters wanted. The constituency sought news tailored to its perspectives.
According to the Pew Research Center, 29 percent of Americans went to online sources for their news in 2004, a drastic change than the 13 percent in 2000.
The 2004 presidential campaigns were big on the internet for something else - fundraising. Howard Dean's campaign (pre-yelp) was on the fast track in that category.
Yet the power of the internet derailed his efforts too, as his rally video became viral.
On its way to victory, the Bush campaign released Kerry's Vietnam congressional interviews online and effectively portrayed him as an elitist husband of an heiress who couldn't relate to common people.
The competing parties began to catch up with one another in 2008 with supporters becoming more internet savvy.
According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, supporters for John McCain (83 percent) were more likely than supporters of Barack Obama (76 percent) to be internet users.
In contrast, supporters of Obama were more likely to use a wider range of online political activities, from live blogging to going online to find volunteering opportunities for the campaign, than McCain supporters.
Also, 74 percent of internet users went online during the 2008 election to participate in campaigning and fundraising initiatives, or get news and information about the campaign, according to PIALP. It was the first time more than half the voting-age population used the internet to connect to the political process during an election cycle.
"Voters have access to the politician and the campaign," said Messner. "They do not have to attend an event to voice their opinion or express their support. They can also find many like-minded voters and organize with them."
The media joined the social media boom as well - 2008 was the first election with live streaming debates on YouTube and news websites. That year also was the first time viewers could be a part of the action without being there by submitting questions to candidates via video.
The media embraced social media to increase its viewership. By 2012, every anchor or news personality had their own Twitter handle or Facebook page so viewers could be a part of the discussion as much as panelists are.
In 2012, Republican candidate Mitt Romney learned from the pitfalls of McCain's campaign and, like Obama, got interactive with the constituents. The relatively young forum got more politically involved compared to 2008 thanks to social media, and more voters were finding what they sought out in regards to political messages.
Politicians on all levels picked up on the growth of social media. According to The Verge, all 100 senators and 90 percent of the House have Twitter accounts.
Obama still leads the charge in socially aware politicians. During his campaign, he hosted a Twitter town hall meeting, and throughout his first term, his weekly address was broadcast via YouTube, posted on the White House website and cable news networks.
The Obama administration created the We the People website, a digital generation's take on one of the First Amendment's rights of petitioning the government. It allowed the online public to voice its opinions without all of the government red tape.
"While it was something very innovative four years ago, social media is now part of the standard of political campaign," said Messner. "Wherever candidates speak, there will be someone in the room with a cell phone and a social media connection."
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