Newt Gingrich announced his intention to run for president in 2012 not by an exclusive interview with Fox’s Chris Wallace, or with an appearance on The Tonight Show. He took his message to the people and made headlines through his Twitter feed and a video posted on Facebook. This is definitely a first for a major mainstream political figure. Not only did his candidacy Tweet get a big response from his followers and social media political pundits, but the mainstream press picked it up and ran with it.

Gingrich’s tactic follows a precedent set by the candidates in the 2008 presidential race (see our April 8th CGPR Blog, Social Media and Political Campaigns), and it is now essential for any candidate running for office to have a well thought out and innovative social media strategy.

Just as Twitter and to a lesser extent, Facebook have given fans direct access to the thoughts and whimsy of their favorite celebrities, political candidates running for office can save time and precious funds by eliminating the “middle man”, the press itself. But this type of access to the voters and potential funders is not without dangers: one false step, one mis-phrased thought, one leaked image or video, and your candidacy could be over in the time it takes to type a hashtag.

So, as with any PR/Media strategy, Gingrich and his fellow candidates will need to have their social media messaging just as honed and strictly regulated as their traditional media strategy.

We celebrate the ubiquity of social media in politics–we think it gives voters a better window into each candidate’s positions on the issues, for sure. But we also realize from our own profession’s learning curve with social media (example: last week’s the Google v. Facebook debacle courtesy of Burson-Marsteller) that with this powerful new opportunity to reach the masses, requires extra vigilance when it comes to messaging and content.