Jason Cross, a Consultant in our US  Marketing, Sales and Service practice explores the evolving use of social media by both the Democratic and Republican Presidential Campaigns, and presents valuable business insights that translate from electoral politics to corporate marketing campaigns.

Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, the times are changing. The US and the international economy are skating on thin ice, ready to collapse into paralyzing waters without a moment’s notice. The employment in the United States stumbles to improve, as it dips under 8% for the first time in Barack Obama’s presidential term (September 2012), and International Tensions in the Middle East remain a controversial topic of debate. As a nation, the United States people have an important decision to make in the 2012 Presidential Election, & active voters and followers can be assured of only one thing: social media will play a major role in each and every hour of every day until the votes are counted and the president for 2012-2016 is elected.

To put a few numbers into perspective on the ‘reach’ & importance of social media as a communication tool, here are a few eye-popping numbers to wet the palate for the Marketing Campaign Leads for both parties:

Fast forward to 2008, and current President Barack Obama and his Democratic Party were in the midst of campaigning against the Republican Party, led by Arizona Senator & Presidential hopeful John McCain. This campaign marked the first time in history that parties used social media (granted, many social media sites didn’t launch until 2004), and the Democratic Party took advantage of opportunity to share a wide range of information about their position(s) on issues, leveraging a plethora of social media tools – from blogs & social networks, to photo & video sharing sites, to name a just a few.

The advent of social media for presidential campaigning was a trending topic and the New York Times were one of the first news sources to exploit this in an article titled, “How Obama Tapped into Social Networks’ Power” in November of 2008. As Ranjit Mathoda, lawyer, money manager, and blogger at Methoda.com, puts it, “Thomas Jefferson used newspapers to win the presidency, F.D.R. used radio to change the way he governed, J.F.K. was the first president to understand television, and Howard Dean saw the value of the Web for raising money. Mathoda later added, “(but) Senator Barack Obama understood that you could use the Web to lower the cost of building a political brand, create a sense of connection and engagement, and dispense with the command and control method governing to allow people to self-organize to do the work.”

The Democratic & Republican Parties are at the peak of what has been an exciting and eventful 2012 campaign. Let me point out the glaring changes prevalent this year compared to prior years, all centered around social media:

  1. Barack Obama has a YouTube Channel. It has over 250 million video views and almost 250,000 subscribers. Mitt Romney has a YouTube Channel. It has over 270 million video views compiled and 26,000 subscribers.
  2. Messaging on Facebook. Barack Obama has a commanding lead over Mitt Romney, with 31 million fans versus Romney’s 9 million fans (as of October 2012).  Explosive user growth was observed for both parties following each debate.
  3. Activity on Twitter. In an article by The Huffington Post titled “Embracing the Medium: How Presidential Campaigns Use Technology,” the author, Lindsay Hoffman, challenges readers to consider the social involvement from both parties in the 2012 election and how social media played a role in the 2008 election. The author sheds light on the fact that the  in a two week period in June of this year, the Obama campaign averaged 29 Tweets (posts on Twitter, for those who aren’t as familiar), while Romney averaged only 1 Tweet a day. However, only 16% of Obama’s Tweets were Re-Tweets, leading us to believe that neither party has fully mastered Twitter.

For a side-by-side comparison of the Social Media Initiatives for each side in the election, be sure to check out this page. Note that you can even find published playlists on Spotify per each candidate!

Not So Fast…

While the advent of social media messaging is booming in the United States and across the world, there are some advantages and disadvantages that campaigns should be mindful of. Social Media offers the appeal to communicate with a broad audience in a very short amount of time. Online users can find media content posted online in mere minutes after an event occurs in real-time.

While the Democratic and Republican parties have been active in the social media space, a majority of social groups are created by independent organizations, such as blogs, Facebook groups, and communities. Independent groups and associations such as the Facebook group “Young Professionals for Mitt” have generated party-affiliated discussions & initiatives in niche communities.

On the contrary, the content of media is not controlled, and statements, pictures, and videos can be misconstrued to misrepresent the situation out-of-context. Additionally, 3rd party (independent) users can share media detrimental media that can go viral. Take the “Mitt Romney Gangham Style Parody”, or the video titled “Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up (feat. Eminem),” which had generated over 4.3 million and 5.8 million YouTube views, respectively. Or take the “Single Ladies Spoof” and the “Call Me Maybe” parody for Barack Obama, generating over 21 and 29 million views on YouTube, respectively.

“When you think about it, a campaign is like a start-up business”

-Ranjit Mathoda

So, how do all of these initiatives affect us beyond the Presidential elections that occur every 4 years? Well, my friend, the lessons learned are important for a variety of businesses, be it a startup or an established company, or anywhere in between. Low and behold, here are the Three E’s every business should focus on in the social media space:

  1. Engage the audience. Provide the audience with interesting and insightful information. Surround an interesting article with a complimentary video (or another tool) that will ultimately increase user viewing time on a website (web marketing).
  2. Empower the audience. Encourage the audience to share the information, and make sure the content is engaging enough to share. No user wants to share a boring piece of media, but every user wants to be the FIRST to share the next trending item with their friends or family.
  3. Embrace social. Constantly post and interact with users. Similar to shooting free-throws, the more you practice, the better you get and the more you make (note exception here: Shaquille O’Neal).

Why Should I (business CEO) Care?

Social media is an important facet of many peoples’ every tasks, from the moment they are awake until the moment they go to sleep (and then some, for the cell-phone dependent users who wake up in the middle of the night and check their mobile device, myself included, unfortunately). Social Media is key to developing and maintaining a brand, and proper management in the social space will undoubtedly lead to high levels of brand visibility, marketing success, and ultimately, higher revenues from increased sales.

It is imperative that businesses determine their “Target Audience” and formalize a “3E Strategy” before jumping into the fire. For some businesses, social media might not be the optimal channel to communicate with the target customer. Restorative healthcare for the elderly might be a prime example of this.

Well, What Next?

Similar to how the presidential campaign has dramatically shifted over time, the marketing techniques in the mobile, social, and online space will as well. Companies should aim to have a higher level of interconnectivity with their online audience, and media innovations should be embraced in every marketing discussion at the executive level. As the 2012 election concludes and the 2016 Presidential Campaign Season draws ever closer, keep an eye out for more Tweets, Pokes, and Online Videos than ever before!