Losing the Forest for the Trees

TechPresident was out with a great article last month which analyzed how the presidential campaigns have leveraged social media thus far in 2012. The author points out that they’ve drilled into micro-targeting, data mining, and hyper-segmentation. Where once campaigns focused on “white women over 65,” now they are after “the middle child who likes Jay-Z, studied philosophy, plays trombone and tweets about Mad Men.” It’s an extreme, but just barely. The author draws three conclusions from this new approach.

First, too much of the mainstream political media coverage of tech’s role in the campaign falls for the digital candy

Second, compared to 2004 or 2008, in 2012 the relative balance of power between campaigns and voters–in terms of how they use interactive communications technologies to influence the course of the election, has subtly but substantially shifted back toward the campaigns.

Third, both the Obama and Romney campaigns are deeply and quietly invested in plugging into their supporters’ social networks, a process I called “Facebookization.” Unlike four years ago, when we saw a flowering of user-generated Facebook groups (led by the “Million Strong for Obama”), here the game is all about the campaigns’ ability to access their supporters’ social graph, mine them for insights and then presumably make sophisticated and targeted use of word-of-mouth networks.

The big campaigns are fine tuning their message to make sure it gets in front of the right people. They’ve mistaken powerful tools  as sources of information instead of as new mediums for conversation. Here at Voters Act, we feel that the new approach misses the point. Social media isn’t about targeting people more effectively – voters have proven that they’re increasingly unaffected by political messaging – instead, social media is about giving your supporters a narrative worth sharing. While the current strategy reaches ever-deeper into our online information, social media’s real strength allow unparalleled outreach so that your supporters can tell their friends why you should be elected.

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Social Media Has Nothing to Do With Facebook or Twitter

Brian Solis wrote an article back in the summer of 2007 about emerging social networks. That was before Pinterest was founded, before Spotify crossed the pond, and before anyone had ever heard of Twitter. That was when Facebook only had 20 million users and Myspace was valued at $12 billion. In the five years since then, plenty has changed. We can be sure the social media landscape in 2017 won’t look anything like it does today.

Mr. Solis has four important points that are paramount for local candidates to understand.

“It’s about relationships and it’s about people.”

Strategy and tactics are meaningless if you don’t have invested supporters who already support your campaign. Successful online outreach depends on meaningful offline relationships.

“The conversations that drive and define Social Media require a genuine and participatory approach.”

Genuine and participatory aren’t words you usually hear in the political conversation. To win trust and votes online, you need both. If you’re not that way in day-to-day, you won’t be genuine and participatory  online.

“…In the era of social media, people also have amplified voices and are now a powerful channel of peer-to-peer influence – for better or for worse.”

Some people are more important than others. Go find and convince the influencers to support you. What matters isn’t what you say to an influencer, but what they say to their peers.

“Today, conversations are markets and markets are conversations.”

It’s no longer about messaging, it’s about curating conversations. Give your supporters great reasons to talk about you and they’ll do the work.

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BREAKING: Voters Prefer Political Communication From Neighbors

FiveThirtyEight has a post today comparing the early infrastructure of the Obama and Romney campaigns. Obama has a decided early advantage. Towards the end of the article, the author draws attention to the correlation between personalized voter communication and more votes. What 2012 will show is that that personal communication, while evermore important, is no longer dependent on expensive field offices and paid staff. We’ll start to see similar gains correlated to online outreach amongst peers on behalf of campaigns.

A national campaign’s localized outreach — field offices, staff and volunteers — helps a candidate contact voters in a more personal manner. Potential voters have been shown to be more receptive when contacted by someone in their community rather than by a television commercial or automated phone call.

In 2008, about a fourth of all voters were contacted in some way by the Obama campaign. Mr. McCain’s campaign contacted 18 percent of general-election voters. A FiveThirtyEight study from just after the 2008 election found that “each marginal 10-point advantage in contact rate translated into a marginal 3-point gain in the popular vote in that state.”

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Driving Online Action

Bryce over at Local Politechs wrote a great analysis of online actions and the types of advertisements that drive engagement. He cites a study that notes 16% of online adults sent a campaign related email (25 million people) and 4% contributed money to a candidate running for office in 2010. He argues, and we agree, that as usage and political spending increase online these numbers will continue to rise.

We believe the difference between successful and antiquated online strategies will revolve around the intention of online outreach. If it’s just another avenue for messaging, then the internet, like it’s fore-bearers, will display diminishing returns over time and as budgets increase. But, if the internet and social media are used to empower campaign supporters with tools and direction, then we’re on the cusp of a transformational re-imagining of campaign strategy. The internet allows for a crowd-sourced, decentralized campaign – one where campaign loyalists take responsibility for moving their neighbors up the engagement ladder, from undecided to persuaded voter.

All that’s needed are candidates whom their communities trust. Suddenly, when that occurs, the 16% of adults sending emails will have a noticeable affect on the voting patterns of their undecided neighbors.

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Online Contributions up 54% Over Last Year

ActBlue, a democratic donation processor, just released their monthly fundraising numbers.

Mar 2008 Mar 2011 Mar 2012 Change
Contributions 25,344 143,012 167,080 17%
Volume ($) $3,707,738.92 $5,847,994.09 $8,987,964.89 54%
Mean Donation $146.30 $40.89 $53.79 31%
Committees 787 673 1,629 142%

Notice the volume of donations is triple where it was in March of 2008. On the surface, this means political donations are moving online. But it also portends a more significant trend. Not just donations, but the bulk of political activity, is increasingly occurring online. People are going online to research, network, advocate, and donate. Donations are a lagging indicator or greater political activity. That means online outreach needs to be the cornerstone of your campaign.

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“You Gotta Try This”

Andy Sernovitz is the guru of word of mouth marketing. His blog today highlighted data gleaned from the new Global Trust in Advertising study. Here’s the pull quote.

“92% of people trust recommendations from people they know. 47% of people trust ads on TV.”

When we talk about social media and politics, we’re not talking about buying ads on Facebook and Google. What we’re talking about is the ease of communication between individuals and their friends. If I’m going to see Tom Petty, I can now tell everyone I know in Austin in 30 seconds. If my favorite restaurant is Franklin’s BBQ, I can advocate online and my friends are more likely to trust what I say about Franklin’s than what Franklin’s says about itself.

It’s the same with political outreach. Up until this election, campaigns have raised millions of dollars so they can tell people about themselves. Going forward, that won’t be necessary. The best candidates will have supporters telling their friends on the candidate’s behalf. It’s easy, it’s free, and it’s 45% more effective than the old way. That’s what Voters Act is all about.

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Political Ad Spending

Tina Dupey, writing in the Jersey Journal, recently wrote an article  arguing that political television advertisements, like cigarette commercials, should be banned. Her piece makes an intriguing rebuttal to those who would advance free speech justifications in defense of the practice. What’s most interesting though, are the statistics she references in defense of her proposal. Here are the numbers:

  1. $9.8 billion will be spent on political advertising in 2012
  2. 60% of this will be on television ($5.88 billion)
  3. $42 per potential voter

Think about the nearly ten billion in expected campaign expenditures. In light of the growing usage of Tivo, television on demand, and online streaming platforms, television advertising seems to be on the way out. It’s less and less effective at reaching a significant audience and persuading them in 30 seconds.

But, if not television, where would you find voters? The answer is online, and we’re just beginning to discern the platforms and strategies to reach this growing market.

Political Messaging Increasingly Moving Online

The Romney campaign estimates that one-third of voters in Wisconsin (where the primary was held this past Tuesday) won’t see political ads on local television. While the majority of campaign funds will still go to television advertising, the effectiveness of this platform is rapidly becoming negligible. These voters are increasingly being sought online instead.

An article in the New York Times explains the change in strategy.

The Romney campaign and a team of online behavior analysts have spent 18 months trying to fight television advertising’s law of diminishing returns, sifting through data on the browsing habits of tens of millions of computer users as the campaign builds a richly detailed cache of potential supporters.

In doing so, Mr. Romney’s strategists are hoping to turn the Web into a political persuasion tool, signaling a shift in the way modern campaigns view digital advertising. It is no longer merely a supplement for traditional media like television. In some cases, it is a substitute entirely.

A survey conducted last May on voters’ television viewing habits, which is often cited by Romney advisers, found that 31 percent of likely voters had not watched television “live” — that is, at the time it was being broadcast, as opposed to online or on a recording device — in the previous week. And of the 17 percent who said they mostly watched programs recorded on devices like a D.V.R., a large majority skipped through ads most of the time.

Online outreach is still in its infancy, but it’s becoming clear that the internet is the battleground of future elections.

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$29,000 for Tweets

An article appearing at Philly.com today drew attention to councilman Jim Kenney’s relationship with ChatterBlast, a social media marketing company. Mr. Kennedy pays ChatterBlast $28,800 to maintain his Twitter account, controversially with public funds. While Twitter users prefer to interact with public servants directly, and not their consultants, the practice isn’t uncommon. The question is, should the city pay for it?

When asked why he needs ChatterBlast in addition to his $30,000-per-year PR consultant, Mr. Kenney replied:

“I, at 53 years old, do not have that facility…So I need consultant advice to communicate with a group of folks who are not necessarily in my age group.”

What do you think – should candidates running for office use their Twitter account personally, or should the account be used by  staffers to prompt the campaign’s agenda? Once elected, should practices change, or can elected officials continue the practice of seeking outside expertise to communicate with their constituents?

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Santorum’s 50% Right

Last night I received an email from the Santorum campaign (I’m signed up for all their email lists).

We did it again.

Tonight we won both the Alabama and Mississippi primaries.

We did it without million of dollars in TV ads or a friendly media. Our campaign did it with the help of friends like you. And I hope I can count on your generosity one more time.

I bought the message until the last sentence. They’ve got an exciting narrative and a strong sign of momentum. They drive it home by highlighting the everyman nature of the campaign and “friends like you.” Then they ask for money.

If you want my take, they don’t need the money. Sure, campaign’s run on cash, but Santorum hasn’t succeed with overwhelming media buys, he’s preached a message that resonated with voters. If he asked each person on the email list to call ten friends in upcoming primary states, or if he urged voters to talk to  peers  about the results, he’d get the same effect.

Santorum needs votes, and he needs delegates. Money won’t get him there. It’s an equalizer, but it’s not the game that got him to the final four. He shouldn’t shift tactics now.