Social media and the rise of the Global Politician | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 09.09.2016
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Social media and the rise of the Global Politician

With an increasingly globalized world social media has become an invaluable tool of the international political trade, and it will continue to evolve. Just ask Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It's a world where YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter can make you a star, keep you a star or help catapult you to the highest political offices in the world. Just ask people like Kim Kardashian. She may have started out as a reality star in the United States, but her continued success around the world is fueled by her social media following.

But it's not just 'entertainment-it-girls' using the tools of the social media trade. Politicians and heads of government are too, and now they are reaching beyond the traditional marketing avenues to address their constituents and reach an audience that sometimes transcends their own national borders.

Bhupesh Shah, a social media marketing expert and professor at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada, ranked as one of the Top 50 business professors to follow on Twitter, says that it is helping leaders connect with their citizens in an "efficient and effective manner."

"It is absolutely critical for politicians to be accessible and to disseminate their message as wide as possible. Not fully leveraging the tools available nowadays, and sticking only with traditional methods would be fatal," Shah explains.

Arguably the most successful by virtue of followers and likes are India's Prime Minister Nerendra Modi and US President Barak Obama. Modi now has over 20 million followers on Twitter, while President Obama has over 77 million and both continue to wrack up the likes on Facebook and have taken to YouTube, whether it's to be interviewed or to post.

Both have one thing in common when it comes to their social media presence: they get personal.

Rather than just posting canned political messages they've stepped out of the traditional political box, posting more intimate glimpses into their lives, like Obama exercising with the Vice President or playing football with his dog.

"Social media gets around the so-called gatekeepers and takes the message directly to the virtual street!... You're typically reaching the younger demographic, those that are keen to have their voices heard," said Shah.

There is also a new kid on the block becoming one of the most recognizable faces among global leaders, Canada's Prime Minster, Justin Trudeau. Even before he took office he acknowledged the value of social media, saying in an interview in 2013 with Canada's CBC news that "the new public square is online."

He has lived by that, becoming one of the first Canadian politicians to use social media on a regular basis and he, too, made it personal. His strategy is so effective that he has reportedly even caught the attention of Obama's social media team for his particular savvy.

"I think his strategy is what I often suggest to my clients or students: "play where your audience plays." In other words, Trudeau recognizes that the Internet is a great tool for reaching a large audience with minimal investment of time and resources," said Shah.

Today the Canadian PM is a social media darling thanks in part to disarming pictures of him hugging pandas, holding babies or sharing pictures of his kids, and of course photo bombing a wedding shirtless, all of which has appeared in social media postings and shared all over the world.

But social media is also a rapidly changing arena and there are pitfalls that can trip anyone up.

Trudeau, Modi and Obama have largely managed to avoid these, although the Canadian PM has faced criticism within Canada over his use of social media, most notably after he answered a question about quantum computing from a journalist that went viral. Some criticized him for planting the question solely for social media purposes.

"Leaders should recognize that anything they say or do can and will be used by the public (and media) for their own agenda. This means that they always have to be 'on' - knowing that what they say will be instantly captured and shared," Shah explains.

With an increasingly globalized world social media has become an invaluable tool of the international political trade and it will continue to evolve. Modi, Obama and Trudeau are pioneers in this realm and their experiences online are shaping what's to come both internationally and nationally for the next generation of politicians who aspire to the highest offices.

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