Lessons In Internet Strategy From Political Campaigns And Elections
Now that the dust has settled a bit, and we've all licked our wounds or celebrated, it's time as an inbound marketing consultant to share some of the observations for Internet strategy from the recent political campaign.
The awesome thing about living in America is that we value Freedom Of Speech, and the gush of passionate dischord through social media was witness to the vitriol and opinion that this campaign evoked.
I'm actually glad about the passion. One of the worst things that can happen during an election is apathy. There was no apathy with this election - the sides were polarized and it's almost as if the parties themselves fueled the rift. In this day of social media, the decorum that used to dictate that there were two topics you just don't discuss (religion and politics) no longer seemed to be part of our 'new' culture. Instead, it became a war at times though social media. Consider the record number of tweets for each of the Presidential debates, and during and post election coverage.
During the campaign, there were incidents of "unfriending" and open hostility to oposing viewpoints. There was disinformation posted from peudo news sites. Fact checking sites saw record traffic and even the broadcast news stations were guilty of favoritism and bias.
There were a few who remained calm and tried to post articles and stories unrelated to the campaigns. For the most part, they were somewhat ignored.
After the campaign, post election comments continued to evoke a spectrum of emotion, ranging from smugness to anger, discouragement to jubilation.
At this writing, I'm not sure whether the viscious television advertising fueled the online jousting, or whether the online sparring became the fodder of the television advertising campaign, but I suspect it was a little of both.
I conducted a small, unofficial survey to determine whether the information that was shared through social media evoked any change of opinion with regard to which candidate an individual favored. The response was a resounding NO. No one would admit that the stream of political babble influenced their vaote one way or another. Yet, I do know that when the streams from my friends seemed to sway one way or the other, I found myself reading their comments to see if there was any validity to the derogatory information they were 'uncovering' about the opposing party or candidate. For the most part, many of the posts were invalid or the points made were observations of comments that were twisted and misconstrued into something unsavory - regardless of the way the comment had been intended.
Overall, I have to admit that the Democrats have a better social media and new media campaign than the GOP does. Not sure if it's due to demographics of the average member of each ot the groups, but the older, conservative Republicans were less inclined to post opinion, and less inclined to share viewpoints. That kind of makes sense when you consider that they are, but definition "conservative". The more liberal Democrats did take liberal poetic license and splattered social media with tons of content - much more than the R's did.
If there are any tips I could share with a potential future campaign manager for either party, and also share with busineses who want to effectively use social media, it would be these lessons learned from the recent Presidential campaigns:
- Monitor the social streams. Without listening to "the people" you wind up being "out of touch" with the electorate. The Democrats did a better job of not only monitoring but also responding to the tone and trending topics.
- Use a visual that can be shared. Consider the popularity of the meme - those pictures that become viral and which are shared throughout the Internet. Put visuals together that are humorous and which can be shared easily though various social media channels.
- Play on the topical emotional trends. During the campaign, some of the emotional trends included picking up on Mitt Romney's comment about Big Bird. Suddenly Big Bird was being served roasted for the Romney Thanksgiving feast. Also, the empty chair for Barack Obama used by Clint Eastwood during the GOP convention turned out to be satirized repeatedly. Look for these types of opportunities to utilize a graphic depiction and then run with it in a format that is funny, strikes a chord, and is suitable for sharing.
- Group pages on Facebook. Ok, this was kind of cheating, and I think the D's used this tactic much more to their advantage than the R's did. Did you know you can create a group on Facebook and call it anything you want. Pick a minority, pick a candidate then create the group and populate it with some activists. Then add people to the group. They have to opt out! You read that right. If you add them to the group, they are in the group unless they opt out. Wow, you can build a pretty impressive group pretty quickly, and if there are people who are followers and who are swayed by the crowd think, you have a powerful tool to enlist an audience.
- Special interest blog websites. I saw a plethora of pseudo sites that sprung up favoring one party or the other, and adding very slanted content to the site on an ongoing basis. I discovered many of these when I saw an article that was posted on the Facebook stream that did not make any sense to me. I clicked on the link and was taken to a website that was decidedly one-sided. Not sure how anyone rational can take the information from a site that is obviously slanted and quote it as gospel, but it seemed to be an effective tactic since I saw this over and over again.
So how can we, as rational beings use social media and have our voices heard for greater good? The best uses of social media are:
- Share Information but check out the sources first. PLEASE use credible sources. Try to avoid extreme bias, like the anti-Romney video that blames Romney for Hurricane Sandy.
- Encourage Dialogue politely. Posting that someone is going to make a "Mitt-stake" or elect an "Obamanation" is not helpful to an open discussion.
In the end, did the parties let us down, or did we do this to ourselves? By letting us down, I'm referring to the fact that as of now, there is a vast chasm in our nation. Believe it or not, we are more polarized that I think we have ever been. And the vote was not a mandate. Sweating it out to the end, even if he won, Obama has to realize that this was a pretty squeeky win for him considering that he is the incumbant and he has the edge. With the populace so emotionally divided our nation has more than an economic hurdle to overcome.
Will social media be used to help mend the nation, or to further push it into turmoil? It in our hands much more than ever before. Thanks to social media, we can have our voices heard.
What do you think? Was this the nastiest election you ever lived through? Do you feel that social media helped or hindered the campaigns? Please share your thoughts.
God Bless America.
WebMarCom is an Internet strategy and Web Marketing Communications Agency based in South Jersey and Philadelphia.