On the national level, campaigns put social-networking technologies such as Facebook and Twitter to great use. Volunteers have been recruited. Votes have been earned. Contributions have been collected.

What about local campaigns in Columbia?

Seeking to understand how our local candidates are using social-networking technologies, I used e-mail and Facebook messaging to pose several questions. My first step was to Google our candidates for the City Council and school board. I quickly found contact information for all but a few.

This admittedly imperfect methodology provides an interesting glimpse into social networking and the April election. Assuming some margin of error, my premise is that candidates who could be found and contacted and then quickly responded over the Internet would have something meaningful to offer about social networking in political campaigns.

Candidates generally conveyed the sense that social networking is just one of several tools they will use. An exception to this is mayoral candidate Sal Nuccio, who said, “I believe they are very important and just might win me a seat as mayor.”

Boone County Democrats Executive Director Brian Goldstein offered this summary: “Twitter is fantastic for rapid response because it is unfiltered broadcasting, and you can tweet directly to problems and people as they come up. Facebook is best for low-cost organizing. … Last, I think a well-maintained blog is a huge asset in controlling a candidate’s image and staking out specific positions with substantive reasoning.”

Facebook and Twitter are prevalent. Nuccio uses MySpace, school board candidate Sarah Read has a blog, and there were a few candidates who mentioned LinkedIn. Overall, it seems as though most candidates are figuring out their social-networking strategies on a day-to-day basis.

Candidates are using social-networking services for many purposes: making announcements, organizing volunteers, explaining positions on issues and raising money. Several candidates expressed excitement about the opportunity to create conversations with the community, even if, as mayoral candidate Gary Kespohl said, “My hardest function is getting what I need to say in 140 or less characters.”

Council candidate Karl Skala said: “I intend to use social networking to understand those with whom I engage. Just as I would prepare for an exam or a debate, so would I prepare for consensus building by trying to understand others’ perspectives.”

School board candidate Jan Mees mentioned the role social-networking technologies play in the transition from candidate to office holder.

“One of the most positive aspects is that those in office can really form lasting relationships with their supporters through daily social-networking interaction rather than relying solely on a campaign to build name and issue recognition,” she said. “I think as time progresses, constituents will expect and even demand a social-networking presence by their elected official to allow the accountability and accessibility that voters appreciate.

Social networking is obviously going to take up plenty of our candidates’ time; it remains to be seen whether it will significantly affect the final vote.

Special thanks to the candidates who received my message and responded in nine hours or less: mayoral candidates Paul Love, Sal Nuccio, Sid Sullivan and Jerry Wade; school board candidates Dan Holt, Jan Mees and Phil Peters; and City Council candidates Rick Buford, Tracy Greever-Rice, Gary Kespohl, Karl Skala and Sarah Read.

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