Mufi Hannemann: Foodie Fridays.

Linda Lingle: Beaches and sunrises.

Tulsi Gabbard: Thank You notes.

Mazie Hirono: Sign-waving.

Ed Case: Pau Hanas.

No, they aren’t arbitrary buzzwords. They aren’t favorite pastimes, either. They’re the subjects of regular status updates and tweets, examples of each candidate’s distinct approach to social networking.

Social media are the meat and potatoes of today’s political campaigns. And it’s no different here in Hawaii.

“Social media has transformed the way that candidates approach the public,” said Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, Hannemann’s Deputy Campaign Manager. “Rather than just broadcasting a single message, such as a television ad, social media is more of a two-way street. Candidates can share what’s on their mind at the moment, and their friends, followers and fans can do the same.”

Civil Beat decided to look into the role of social media in the campaigns of candidates for the hotly contested U.S. House, U.S. Senate and Honolulu mayoral seats. We discovered that candidates for national office maintain a conspicuously more active presence (and following) on social media sites than those for mayor. We also noticed that the level of activity within social media tends to correlate with the level of competition the candidates will face in the Aug. 11 primary elections.

Hannemann, Lingle, Gabbard, Hirono and Case engage in some of the most prolific social networking. These candidates have thousands of fans and followers, hourly tweets and status updates, channels on YouTube and photo albums on Flickr.

In addition to updating their pages with run-of-the-mill promotional information, they tweet and post photos and messages that give their campaigns personality. Lingle’s campaign, for example, regularly posts panoramic photos of Hawaii’s landscape alongside notes such as “Hope you all are getting a head-start on a productive week today!” Gabbard makes an effort to personally respond to Twitter shout-outs in comments replete with @ signs and hash-tags.

“Candidates are engaging people through these media in a way they wouldn’t have before,” said Scott Robertson, an associate professor in the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Information and Computer Sciences department and director of the university’s Computer-Human Interaction lab. “Especially national candidates at the level of the Senate and House, they’re following a national trend. Almost no national candidates are absent from social media anymore.” Robertson has been conducting studies looking at how people — particularly young adults — respond to the use of social media in national politics.

The degree of research being conducted on social media attests to how focal sites like Facebook and Twitter have become in American politics and electioneering. The Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life project has published a series of reports on the topic and ProPublica is conducting an ongoing investigation into the sophisticated ways that modern campaigns are tracking and targeting voters.

Pres. Barack Obama in 2008 relied on social networking to raise $500 million for his presidential campaign, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). “The Internet is no longer the new frontier when it comes to political campaigns,” reads an NCSL article on Internet campaigning. “It is surpassing traditional methods of campaigning and the traditional media that campaigns rely on.”

According to a Pew Research Center study, 22 percent of online Americans used social networking or Twitter for political purposes in the 2010 campaign.

And studies show that electioneering through social media often has a positive effect on election results, according to Robertson.

“Politicians who use Facebook and get more ‘likes’ have tended to be winners more often,” said Robertson in reference to a study he conducted on social networking in national campaigns.

In any event, simply maintaining profile pages on these sites doesn’t suffice. Robertson and his team analyzed what voters found effective about candidates’ use of social media. “Just being present in social media isn’t enough,” he said. “Once they’re out there they have to present themselves in a certain way.”

For one, Robertson found that voters make “character judgments” based on the types of photos that candidates post on their Facebook pages.

“People are looking at pictures a lot; pictures make a big difference,” said Robertson, noting that photos showing candidates interacting with people are particularly effective. “It’s an impression thing.”

Robertson also said that voters pay attention to how responsive and solicitous
candidates — or their designated social media administrators — are on their social media pages. After all, social media should offer an informal vehicle through which candidates engage in informal conversation with their electorate, according to Robertson.

People can tell when a campaign is using social media just to push out their message versus to actually engage with the public, Robertson said.

“It’s obvious when they’re not responding to comments from regular people and just posting ads,” Robertson said.

Here’s a list of some of the candidates who seem to utilize social media most. The list is first organized by seat sought and then alphabetically. The numbers are estimates based on data collected the week of July 23. Click on the icons to visit candidates’ social media pages.

U.S. Senate

Ed Case, Democrat


  • Facebook fans: 1,100
  • ‘Talking about this’: 130 (This Facebook metric indicates the number of unique users who have interacted with the page — by ‘liking’ it, posting something on its wall, commenting, sharing and so on — in the past week.)
  • Frequency of Facebook photo and/or status updates: 5 posts per day


  • Twitter followers: 1,900
  • Frequency of tweets: 2-3 tweets per day

Other account(s): YouTube, Flickr

Social media strategy:

Case himself manages and updates his social media sites much of the time. He also employs a “social media manager” — a man named Micah Alameda, of Hilo — who, along with a few other campaign team members, posts announcements, articles and other pieces of information related to the campaign.

“Ed does most of the posts from the campaign trail himself,” said Alameda. “Our social media team is not here to speak for him; Ed does not need or like to be walled off or managed.”

But the team also serves another purpose.

“We also help to combat some of the misinformation that is out there,” said Alameda. “One major difference campaigning in today’s world is how quickly information spreads. Personal attacks and false claims can spread like wildfire and none of it has to be fact checked. We help address these attacks quickly with factual information.”

Case started utilizing social media when he ran for Hawaii governor in 2002. During that time, he ran a fully interactive website that included online video messages and agendas, according to Kaopuiki. These days he uses HootSuite to manage all his social media accounts in one place.

“Social media is indispensable to our campaign,” said Sarah Kaopuiki, state coordinator for Case’s campaign. “For a large and growing portion of the voters (not just young voters), social media is their principal if not only way of getting information. It is also a great equalizer because the flow of information via social media does not depend on fundraising. It is a method of getting our message out, asking for support and communicating that is open to all.”

Mazie Hirono, Democrat


  • Facebook fans: 3,100
  • ‘Talking about this’: 500
  • Frequency of Facebook photo and/or status updates: 5 posts per day


  • Twitter followers: 1,150
  • Frequency of tweets: 5 tweets per day

Other account(s): YouTube, Flickr

Social media strategy:

Hirono’s campaign didn’t comment on who handles the Senate candidate’s social networking. But Carolyn Tanaka, Hirono’s Deputy campaign manager, did emphasize that social media has played a key role in her elections activities.

“From the beginning of our campaign, when Mazie announced her decision to run for the Senate via online video, social media has been a pivotal way to engage with supporters and connect with voters,” said Tanaka in a statement. “Using a full complement of digital tools and channels has been an integral part of our operations. It is not only a way to inform people, but also a means of creating conversations and fostering community.”

Hirono uses Sprout Social, a social media management program designed for businesses.

Linda Lingle, Republican


  • Facebook fans: 3,400
  • ‘Talking about this’: 800
  • Frequency of Facebook photo and/or status updates: 1-2 posts per day


  • Twitter followers: 1,400
  • Frequency of tweets: 3-4 tweets per day

Other account(s): YouTube

Social media strategy:

Lingle has dedicated campaign accounts that are handled by various members of the campaign’s communications team, according to campaign spokesperson Corrie Heck. She also has personal accounts.

“Social media is definitely something that [Lingle’s] personally committed to,” said Heck. “It’s our key vehicle.”

Lingle strives to engage a range of voters with social media. “It’s really a broad spectrum for us,” said Heck. “We’re not targeting anyone in particular.”

Heck cites a Pew Research Center study, which indicates that the fastest growing group of social media users consists of those over 50.

Lingle utilizes Facebook, Twitter and YouTube most. She’s also getting into other forms of social media, such as Instagram.

“Lingle really recognizes that things are changing,” said Heck. “Opportunities and mediums are changing with the times. We really try to focus on the engagement side of social media than pushing out messaging. Talking with people, trying to be as forthcoming as possible.”

U.S. House of Representatives, Congressional District 2

Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat


  • Facebook fans: 5,300
  • ‘Talking about this’: 1,300
  • Frequency of Facebook photo and/or status updates: 5 posts per day


  • Twitter followers: 1,200
  • Frequency of tweets: 3-4 tweets per day

Other account(s): YouTube, Google+, Pinterest

Social media strategy:

Both Gabbard herself and volunteer campaign staff manage her social media pages. But the campaign team ensures that that information is transparent — posts by Gabbard are signed “Tulsi” and those by staff are signed “TeamTulsi.”

“We all feel this is a much more honest way of using social media, rather than having a staffer posting while pretending to be the candidate like so many other campaigns do,” she said.

While social media do not form the crux of Gabbard’s campaign, she relies on the sites for virtually every aspect of her “overall campaign plan,” she said.

“I belong to a demographic that embraces social media more than other demographics, so it’s natural for me to use it for my campaign,” said Gabbard.

Gabbard says that social media have proven especially valuable for connecting with voters on neighbor islands. “The state is so large and diverse,” she said. “While I wish I could meet every voter in person, it’s not possible. Our social media page allows me to introduce myself to more people, answer their questions and communicate directly with them.”

Mufi Hannemann, Democrat


  • Facebook fans: 6,500
  • ‘Talking about this’: 550
  • Frequency of Facebook photo and/or status updates: 1-2 posts per day


  • Twitter followers: 533,200 (Click here to read why he has so many followers.)
  • Frequency of tweets: 7 tweets per day

Other account(s): YouTube, Flickr, Linkedin, Google+

Social media strategy:

Hannemann himself handles most of the social media for his campaign via his iPad, according to campaign manager Dos Santos-Tam. Campaign staff and volunteers also help out.

Hannemann, who has had accounts on Facebook and YouTube since 2008, actively utilizes all the major social media sites.

“Each platform has its own audience and its own strategy,” said Dos Santos-Tam. “With Twitter, we are able to share messages with users here in Hawaii and worldwide…On Facebook, our presence is much more local, and we can engage with users and their friends on a more one-on-one basis.”

Hannemann uses social media primarily to share “fresh, relevant, engaging and authentic” content — on topics ranging from sports to food — with his fans and followers, says Dos Santos-Tam. One example is his weekly “Foodie Friday” shoutout, in which he profiles a local restaurant. He’s also caught on to the “Throwback Thursdays” social media phenomenon, each week sharing a picture from his personal photo albums.

Honolulu Mayor

Honolulu’s top candidates for mayor don’t seem to be as active in social media as the candidates listed above. But here’s an overview of their pages.

Kirk Caldwell


  • Facebook fans: 215
  • ‘Talking about this’: 40
  • Frequency of Facebook photo and/or status updates: 1-2 posts per day


  • Twitter followers: 900
  • Frequency of tweets: 4 tweets per day

Other account(s): YouTube, Flickr

(Like Case, Caldwell uses HootSuite.)

Peter Carlisle


  • Facebook fans: 2,700
  • ‘Talking about this’: 100
  • Frequency of Facebook photo and/or status updates: 1-2 posts per day


  • Twitter followers: 1,900
  • Frequency of tweets: 10-15 tweets per day

Ben Cayetano


  • Facebook fans: 700
  • ‘Talking about this’: 300
  • Frequency of Facebook photo and/or status updates: 3 posts per day


  • Twitter followers: 160
  • Frequency of tweets: 3-4 tweets per day

Other account(s): YouTube

(Cayetano uses RSS Graffiti to automatically publish his Twitter feed on his Facebook page.)

About the Author