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The social networking election begins…

Tim Pawlenty announced via Facebook on Monday that he is forming a presidential exploratory committee, one of the first big steps toward a presidential run.

That video followed a series of “action movie”-themed teasers that Pawlenty has been posting to his YouTube channel for the last several months, hinting (strongly) at a 2012 bid. It’s the first big social media splash from any of those who figure to contend for the Republican nomination.

As much as the 2008 election was touted as a social media game changer at the time, it was really only the preseason. Then Senator Obama was really the only candidate doing anything with social networking; the others mostly jumped on the bandwagon when they realized it was necessary to compete for the youth vote.

The 2012 election will be different. Youth voters may not be as likely to play a big role, but social media has become deeply intertwined with big media and culture in general.

This won’t as big of an issue for Pres. Obama as it will be for the Republican contenders, who first have to beat each other and then the president himself, who is no stranger to social campaigns.

*It’s entirely possible that a fellow Democrat will challenge the president for the Democratic nomination, but for obvious reasons, it’s not very probable.

Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman write for Politico:

[Republicans are] preparing for a presidential run in the social media era, where current videos are instantly available, and a two-hour discourse will most likely be boiled down to its most embarrassing 12 seconds before spreading like a virus across Twitter and YouTube.

The challenge isn’t just what is said in in the current campaign. Everything that a candidate has ever said on video can be made new again, at the least opportune moment….

If all that’s not enough, the voting public has a little more experience with social media now than it did three years ago. Smart phones have proliferated and driven video uploads through the roof (or maybe just pushed the roof higher). Facebook is the size of a (the) country. And how many fledgling political blogs are probably already salivating at the chance to become the WikiLeaks of the 2012 election?

All candidates will have to sharpen their social acumen to make it to the finish line in this one. Even more interesting perhaps is that while 2012 could be seen as the first big election to involve social networking, it may also be the last. By the time 2016 rolls around, this will all be business as usual.

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