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New Tools Become the Norm: Social Media and the Presidential Race

by Karl Fendelander  |  
December 6, 2012

The 2008 US presidential race was hailed as the "social media election," largely due to the Obama campaign's unprecedented social marketing efforts. By the time the 2012 election rolled around, things had changed quite a bit.

To put things in perspective, there were 1.8 million tweets (total) on election day in 2008. Today, Twitter sees 1.8 million tweets every six minutes. Facebook has recently hit one billion users---fully one-seventh of humans alive on the planet. In 2008, a total of 5.4 million people posted an "I voted" button on Facebook. In 2010, 12 million people posted it---and there wasn't even a presidential race.

During the presidential election in 2012...

  • 2 million tweets mentioned the candidates every week.

  • At the Democratic National Convention, Obama's speech garnered 52,756 tweets a minute, and Michelle Obama's got 28,003 every minute.

  • Romney's speech at the Republican National Convention got 14,289 tweets per minute.

  • Making their presence online known, 40% of millennial voters (ages 18-29) post political opinions on their social profiles.

  • 38% of social media users have promoted political content, and 33% have re-shared it.

  • 34% of social media users have logged on to Facebook or Twitter just to encourage others to vote.

With social media being so much more prevalent in today’s society, marketers and social media enthusiasts are constantly monitoring the Internet chatter to see what people are saying online... and the results are interesting.

2012 Presidential Campaign Takeaways

Both Romney and Obama put teams of experts to work on their digital presence, which is why you couldn't go anywhere online without bumping into an advertisement of some sort for one candidate or the other. As with anything, where there are teams of devoted experts, there are undoubtedly good ideas.

Here are some of the best takeaways for digital marketers from this year's election.

Have a presence everywhere. In the 1996 election, it was a big deal to have a campaign website. In the 2008 election, social outreach got coverage for its own sake. This year, the Internet's novelty has worn off, but only because everyone knows about it, and nearly everyone who wants to be online is. As the New York Times points out, while the digital media side of things is new, these aren't new tactics. "The more people you talk to, the more likely you are to win," said Zachary Moffatt, the digital director for the Romney campaign. Replace "talk" with tweet, post, share, blog etc., and you'll get a good idea of how both Obama and Romney were approaching social networking.

From Spotify playlists to the recipe-covered Pinterest boards of the first lady and Ann Romney, from pictures of family interactions and local pie eating contests on Instagram and Flickr to rousing and amusing back-and-forth on Tumblr, these candidates had their bases covered.

Everyone's watching. A study from the Pew Research Center found that 55% of registered voters watched political videos online during this year's campaign season. Perhaps more notable is that 52% of registered voters said that someone had recommended a video or videos to them, showing just how powerful social video content can be.

Have taste. The jokes, the Spotify playlists, the favorite recipes on Pinterest, and first-family photos on Instagram---all of it was geared towards making the candidate more relatable. According to Coye Cheshire, an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley's School of Information, "it is important for people to know whether or not a huge political figure shares the same taste as me. And creating a playlist on Spotify is part of what makes them seem more human." If someone was moved enough to vote because of a song or banana bread recipe, just think what a little humanizing could do to your web presence.

Accountability is instant. In today's world, fact-checking is near instant, and it's so easy that anyone who's made it out of sixth grade can do it. According to the Pew Research Center, 35% of smartphone users used their phone to fact check during 2012's election season. Another study from Pew found that 11% of people who watched the presidential debates live were "dual screeners," following the debate on a computer or mobile device while watching it on television, often for on-the-fly fact checking.

It's the Information Age. No one, not even politicians, can get away with lying about the facts for longer than it takes to ask Siri or Google it. Take the 250,000 tweets about Big Bird during the first debate immediately after Romney's comment as proof of instant accountability.

Mobile is powerful. 88% of registered voters have a cell phone, according to Pew, and 27% of those people used it to get 2012 election updates. This year, a full 10% of presidential campaign donors surveyed by the Pew Research Center said they donated via a mobile device. With six billion cell phones active around the globe, neither you nor the presidential candidates can afford to just gloss over the mobile market.

More and more tech-savvy youngsters are coming of age every day, and today's 18-year-old voters were born the year AOL 2.0 came out. They've never known a time without the Internet, and they're voting, contributing members of society. Presidential campaigners acted with that in mind. You need to keep your audience in mind as well when creating your campaigns.

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Karl Fendelander is a writer and content creator who cut his teeth on online writing in the late '90s and who has been plugged into the newest technology and tuned into the latest trends ever since. Karl has created content about everything from computer schools to cooking with chocolate.

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