Campaign in US highlights need to get social media strategy right
NET RESULTS:PERHAPS NOTHING demonstrates how immature our general understanding is of social media than a US presidential campaign.
We all know that when it works, it works spectacularly. Exhibit A is the way in which Barack Obama used social media in his 2008 campaign to harness the power of the individual citizen and the small financial contribution to override the dominance of large organisations and power brokers.
Hence we have President Obama today, rather than the former candidate Obama.
But most of the time using social media effectively as a political strategy is tricky for candidates, more a potential minefield and gaffe factory than a powerful tool.
And, going on an entertaining and informative presentation recently at Trinity College, given by Jonathan Chavez, co-founder and director of US social media analytics firm SocialSphere, the Republicans, in particular, just don’t get social media.
He says presidential campaigns are the bellwether for mass media and marketing approaches because the budgets are enormous (predicted to hit €2.4 billion in this campaign), and metrics for gauging success are very clear as you either win or lose.
Presidential campaigns are also very long. In essence, candidates start jousting for party selection two years before the actual election. That allows lots of time to develop and use new strategies – and with social media, to nurture those critical direct relationships of trust with an audience that will help structure citizen support for a campaign. (That’s harder for European campaigns, which may be only eight weeks long, he says – hence the need to use social media effectively all the time to have the trust base and supporters in place to mobilise when elections roll around. Now that’s something no one here has learned yet).
“But the adoption of technologies has growing pains,” he says. “When you apply old mentalities to new technologies, you often do more harm than good. And some campaigns don’t get it.”
Meaning primarily the Republicans, though he notes that he is unimpressed with how Obama is using social media this time around – less to motivate individual voter effort and more to raise donations by constant emailing and tweeting to the point of spamming.
That’s clearly working for the campaign at the moment, he says, but he thinks Obama risks alienating supporters unless the social media approach changes tactics.
Chavez says US parties primarily use social media to address their biggest weakness. Democrats use it to organise; Republicans to “try to show they have a personality”.
But, on Twitter, the Republicans “got” it first, Chavez says. There are four times more Republicans on Twitter than Democrats, and they use it primarily as “a news source echo chamber”, circulating links to articles. Yet the GOP candidates don’t use it, or any other form of social media, effectively, he says.
Newt Gingrich, for example, had more Twitter followers than all the others – 1.4 million – but, on analysis, it turned out that 66 per cent of them only followed Gingrich and had no followers themselves.
“He paid firms to get him followers,” says Chavez, and they weren’t forming any groundswell of social media activity for him.
Ron Paul was proclaimed for having more mentions and tweets on Twitter than even Obama – 219,038 mentions as opposed to 71,593 for Obama. “But mentions and tweets don’t translate into votes,” Chavez says.
Rick Perry was considered “the brainiest operation in America”. His campaign focused on getting influential bloggers to try to get their followers to support Perry. But soon people felt some bloggers were “shilling” for Perry rather than truly committed to him and it failed to help Perry gain trust, he says.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a good example of why authenticity matters online, Chavez notes. “He has 1.6 million ‘likes’ [on Facebook] but gets less engagement with his posts than candidates with a tenth the number of followers.” To improve he needs to use social media “to focus on establishing a personal relationship” with voters.
In summary, Chavez said all candidates needed to follow a three-part social media strategy to succeed: identify and establish your important relationships; empower both the campaign and its supporters by capturing data, structuring it and leveraging it, especially by giving it to supporters to use effectively; and then ask for more – “ask the most passionate advocates to translate that passion into votes”.
Irish politicians take note.