Increased smartphone penetration has made social media more important to this year's election cycle, according to a Deloitte analyst who once advised Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
"Social media has been around and been important for at least a couple elections and certainly the 2010 election," said John O'Mahoney, associate director of economics at Deloitte. He spoke last week at an Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) event in Sydney.
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"The reason why it's become more important is actually because of smartphones and because of mobility."
Analysts and academics have said social media will play a significant role in political messaging leading up to the federal election, currently scheduled for 14 September.
"Social media on the desktop is not very exciting, but ... taking selfies and being able to put them on Facebook on your handheld device" has made it easier to create and view social content, O'Mahoney said.
Politicians can use social media to "humanise" themselves to voters, he said. He pointed to Rudd's recent photograph of himself after cutting himself shaving.
"If it's an authentic thing, and it's a true thing, then it's a good thing," he said.
However, there's also a "dark side" to social media if it removes substance from political campaigning, he said. "It can dumb down the debate to a show of who's the most popular or TV savvy."
While Australian politicians' use of mobile technology has progressed, the country still lags behinds the US, O'Mahoney said.
Australia's use of mobile has been limited mainly to mass SMS broadcasting, whereas US politicians use the platform to learn more about voters, he said.
In Australia, "there is still the idea that there is a headquarters with a message and they will share with voters or with candidates," he said. "I think where the US has got to is they're also trying to use it for feedback to see where voters are at."
The most recent campaign for President Barack Obama set out to harvest as much data about voters as it could get, O'Mahoney said. The campaign measured when people sent text messages and used social media and connected the data to other demographics information, he said.
"The benefit of using mobile wasn't about, 'We've got a message we're going to tell everybody.' It was, 'They've all got phones. Let's find out about them.'"
"We're not at that stage yet in Australia," he said. "Maybe in the 2016 election."
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