Diffusion of Innovations and Online Campaigns: Social Media Adoption in the 2010 U.S. Congressional Elections
25 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2011 Last revised: 29 Sep 2012
Date Written: August 13, 2011
This study investigates which candidates were more likely to adopt Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter in the 2010 elections to the U.S. Congress and the reasons why. The study makes three contributions. First, it compares and analyzes three different social media whose technology attributes differ in ways that prove relevant to adoption decisions and, we project, to the extent and nature of their usage. Second, we use diffusion of innovation theory to derive testable hypotheses predicting adoption and explaining our results. Third, we rely on nearly 100 interviews with candidates and campaign staff members to refine our hypotheses and provide a richer explanation for the motivating factors. The interviews reveal that candidates are both content providers and adoption decision-makers who are concerned about image and credibility. We find that large majorities of the major party candidates for the House of Representatives had a Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel. Candidates who raised the most money and those who had familiarity with earlier generations of online media were the most likely early adopters. Constituency demographics did not influence the likelihood of adopting Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, however. We found some differences in adoption across social media. Republicans were significantly more likely than Democrats to have adopted YouTube, but there were no party differences for Facebook and Twitter. YouTube also differed in that while competitiveness of the race increased adoption, peer adoption had no effect. Finally, incumbents were significantly more likely to have adopted Facebook and YouTube, but for the newest social media application, Twitter, incumbents were the least likely to be early adopters.
Keywords: Internet, campaigns, U.S. Congress, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, 2010 elections
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