There are plenty of ways you can use social media to follow the long march from the Iowa Caucus to the November Elections. Several sites, including Instagram and Tumblr, are being used by candidates for the first time to engage and inform citizens.

From behind the scenes access from the media and each candidate’s content to larger sites tracking how the candidates are doing overall, here are just a few sites to check out.

1) 2012 Elections Site | Google: By far, Google does the best job of a non-news organization tapping its products to bring you a complete destination for bipartisan election content. It’s using search, YouTube, Google+ and even Google Calendar to fuel its efforts. And in addition to covering the elections, it has a toolkit to get voters engaged in the process.
2) Media Mentions | Washington Post: Media Mentions tracks how candidates are doing in news coverage as well as on Twitter. And The New York Times, with the help of Big Data, will tell you that candidates who do better than expected will get more media coverage as a result.
3) Tapping Klout to Rank Candidates? | CNN: CNN using Klout is a big win for the polarizing ranking site. I’m hoping someone also comes back to note how well ALL of the platforms did as a predictor of candidate success. As we’ve already seen, unexpected outcomes are standard fare. And we’re already seeing folks use a single social platform to make assertions about which candidate might/could win.

This is uninformed and it’s already being seen that the correlation between quantity of Twitter followers, Facebook likes and YouTube views does not necessarily correlate to the number of votes. In fact, this gets back to the discussion of influence. If someone has all the social buzz, but not the votes….

4) See the Elections Unfold | Instagram:
 The “niche photo site” points out three major news organizations using the platform to augment their coverage. And it gives me a wicked idea (evil laugh).

5) Politics & Election News | New York Times:
 Book-ending our examples is the New York Times who is devoting significant resources above and beyond curating their own news to cover the election. In addition to a mobile app, its bloggers and interactive team are going deep to deliver some interesting insights and examples of social’s impact in the 2012 elections.

Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn
A scan on my part shows nothing of permanent of note from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn just yet. Twitter is showing folks how to live tweet for a better election experience, noting how Twitter and live TV go together like peas and carrots. But based on its White House Town Square effort, I’m sure they’re capable of a more substantive offering.

Facebook is being tapped for live chats as well. It’s good to see an engagement platform being used more for, uh, engaging with voters.

Instant Social Traction

It’s wild to see how quickly and thoroughly single moments in an election, or other nationally broadcast events, can unfold through social media. From Santorum’s unfortunate shared meaning of his last name (no link, just trust me) to his fashion choices.

Social spoofs will be an interesting sideline to distract from the carpet bombing of political ads we’ll see online and offline increasingly over the following year. In a year that election spending is touted as helping to save big media, you know we’re in for some serious political noise this year.

But based on the above alone, I’ll note social is helping bring a new experience to the the 2012 elections — online, offline and on TV. It’s early and we’ll surely see more interesting examples of how it’s used to inform and engage voters.

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