What Charlie Sheen Can Teach Politicians in the Social Media Age

During the 2004 Democratic Primary, Howard Dean arguably became the first “Internet candidate,” building a base of supporters online in addition to raising money and his profile.

He often fell flat, though, when people saw him in person or saw him on television.

I have never participated in Internet dating, but the analogy that was employed often was that Dean was someone whose online profile looked great and exciting until you met him in person.

I thought of this analogy last weekend as the pop culture world was abuzz when Charlie Sheen kicked off his series of live shows in Detroit, and promptly fell flat.

Sheen became a sensation on Twitter, with each of his tweets becoming like hits of cocaine to his addicted followers. After having a meltdown and publicly fighting with CBS executives, Sheen took to Twitter, amassed millions of followers in record time, and became a social media sensation and icon overnight.

His words such as #Duh, #Winning, and #Fastball rocketed into the pop culture lexicon and the public’s vernacular, particularly in the digital and social media universe.

Yet, the first sign of how Sheen’s Twitter success may not cross over into real life was when people who tuned in for his USTREAM show, titled Sheen’s Korner, started leaving in droves.

Last weekend, Sheen kicked off the first of a series of live shows in Detroit and was villified and booed, as people left the show in droves, some even demanding a refund.

The next evening, in Chicago, Sheen’s changed up his routine and seemed to have a more receptive audience.

Then in Cleveland, home of one of his famous movie characters, pitcher Ricky Vaughn in the movie Major League, Sheen was an even bigger success.

The lesson for politicians is clear. In the digital age, people become familar with a candidate’s online profile before they get to see the candidate in person or on television. It is imperative that candidates strike the right balance, by which I mean a candidate’s online personality cannot be drastically different from the candidate’s persona in real life. If a candidate is hyped up spectacularly online and is rather boring in real life, a candidate’s deficiencies can be magnified in the digital age.

Further, if a candidate falls flat when emerging from the digitial world, it is imperative that the candidate calls an audible quickly and adjusts. If a candidate can adjust quickly on his feet, he  can ressurect his image just as quickly in the digital age.

Election 2012 is going to be the first election in which social media forces such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and perhaps other sites defragment the media even more, and how candidates adjust and potentially take advantage of this brave new world will be crucial to any successful campaign.