During AdWeekDC, the LinkedIn/Facebook/MySpace panel not only gave their definitions of social media, they also talked about how the McCain and Obama campaigns are using social networking.

All three panelists agreed that having an online presence is critical to being a part of the conversation:

1. Dale Durrett, LinkedIn, said the candidates are using the site’s polling product to ask about energy policy and other key topics. They’re also using the Q&A feature (1,500 people answered Obama’s first question about economic competitiveness), plus targeted advertising.

2. Tim Kendall, Facebook, said his site enables the campaigns to microtarget, such as advertising to everyone betweeen 18-25 living in Boston or to all Facebook members in a specific congressional district or county.

3. Jason Oberfest, MySpace, said his site has created a standalone property, MyDebates.org, that links to each candidate’s MySpace page and offers members an opportunity to share their opinions and get up-to-date on the issues.

In the end, social networking is just a tool — and hopefully not the only one in the candidates’ toolbox or yours. As LinkedIn’s Durrett put it, “People need to understand the people aspect, and how they identify with social media. Once you understand who the people are, the next step is the technology.”