You don't need a PhD in political science to understand the importance of social media in the runup to the US presidential election. It seems the candidate who wins the social media battle is most likely to win the election.
We saw the impact of online engagement as early as 2004, when the Democratic strategist Joe Trippi used online resources to build a base and launch the campaign of Howard Dean, turning the former Vermont governor from an unknown to a legitimate candidate for a time. That campaign later imploded, for a lot of reasons. Nevertheless, the groundwork was laid for future online campaigns.
That effort would come to fruition four years later. Barack Obama's online architects, Blue State Digital, helped catapult him to the presidency using social media, the campaign Website, and YouTube to make the candidate more popular and mobilize his followers to make donations and get out the vote.
But it wasn't just the Democrats, of course. When something works, both parties take notice. By the time Scott Brown, a Republican, ran his successful 2010 campaign in Massachusetts to take over the seat held by Ted Kennedy for more than 50 years, Brown's skillful use of social media, among other factors, propelled him past the highly favored Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley.
The Coakley campaign is underestimating the importance of social media and the new rules of marketing and PR.
John McCain relied on what worked to elect George W. Bush and he lost mainly because of social media. Now Martha Coakley is relying on the playbook that elected Ted Kennedy and she may lose because of social media too.
Scott was spot on. That brings us to 2012 and how the two main presidential candidates compare in terms of social media.
According to a report by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, a snapshot of the two campaigns taken in June showed Obama with a substantial advantage over Mitt Romney's campaign. But it's worth noting that the Romney campaign has taken steps to close what the report called a "digital divide" between the candidates. You can see a summary of the report in the video below.
Both campaigns have stepped beyond the Web and social media and have developed mobile apps to drive interest in their candidates. Both apps have iOS and Android versions and can be used to communicate with followers, raise funds, and more. Romney tried to drive interest in his app by using it to announce his vice presidential candidate this month.
Though the Pew report complains that neither candidate is engaging in dialogue with the voters, I would argue that using social media is a direct form of communication. The candidates can give their followers a message that isn't filtered by the news media. That's very powerful indeed.
At this point, both parties understand the power of social media, but if the Pew study is to be believed, Obama has a substantial advantage in the social media battle. Many unknown factors can have an impact on an election -- remember the October surprise? But if history is any indicator, his social media savvy could bode well for Obama on Election Day.
Came across this post today on MediaShift, which looks at the impact of social media on the election. The conclusion is we don't know yet of course:
"This leaves us to wonder -- is the election of 2012 the first real social media election? Are the voices and status updates a reflection of public opinion or simply a re-shared viewpoint in an echo chamber? Finally, and most importantly, given how closely social mentions track to the polls, can social media, finally, predict the election?
@slfisher: I won't be surprised to find out that there are companies that give you fake followers on Twitter and charge you in return. Seems like a pretty decent business model to have fake Twitter accounts and sell them to whoever needs followers :)
"But if they're just haphazardly put together just for the sake of the candidate having an online presence, then they can expect things to go wrong (like maybe going viral, for all the wrong reasons.)"
@sotheco: Completely agree with you on this. What you need as a first step is a social media strategy which translates into a social media campaign or presence. Without a proper strategy, things are very likely to go in a haphazard manner and may have a negative impact.
Keep in mind, too, that some people have criticized those apps from President Obama and Gov. Romney as violating people's privacy.
As far as Twitter followers, I recently got access to a new tool that helps detect fake Twitter followers and I was astonished to discover that Obama had a *lot* more fake followers than Romney did -- 29% fake and 39% inactive, with only 32% good, compared with 16/38/46 for Romney.
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