Now that the dust has settled and the 2009 election results have sunk in, the pondering and pontificating by the pundit elite (and not so elite) continues on cable news and online media sites about what the results mean for the president and the nation’s political future. Much of what is discussed is, and will continue to be, partisan in nature (as is the nature of cable news) and quite frankly, without much merit or solid research beyond party talking points and Wikipedia entries.
Discussions have been playing out on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News on whether Obama’s coattails are still strong; whether 2009 elections are a prediction of the 2010 midterms; whether the GOP can turn 2 key gubernatorial wins into a midterm Congressional movement, and so on. Most of these are unknowns, but there is one major continuous thread of the ’08 and now ’09 election cycle that is guaranteed to be part of every successful future campaign whether GOP or Dem or Conservative or Independent: the integrated use of social media and online communications (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, SMA, web 2.0, etc), combined with an authentic, engaging candidate, must be paramount within a campaign’s overall strategy in order to be successful.
In 2008, more than half of the voting-age population used the Internet to get involved in the political process, according to a Pew Internet poll. The Obama campaign was extremely successful in their online organizing strategy and they will tell you they owe their win to the grassroots network, on-line video, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, SMS, and a strong email campaign. The Obama campaign had more than 60 official MySpace profiles (one for each state and constituency group) and built an unprecedented list of millions of email addresses throughout the cycle.
I spoke with Scott Goodstein, who was external online director of Obama for America and founder of Revolution Messaging. Scott analyzed:
“Social media and text messaging were a part of the 2008 campaign like blogs were a part of the 2004 campaign. By 2010, social media and mobile will be expected on all major campaigns. If you think about it, YouTube was not around during the 2004 election, and by 2008 [YT] was the standard for quick video delivery. I imagine that by 2012 quick video delivery will be direct from the campaign to the supporters mobile phone — completely unfiltered and direct.”
The big winners in 2009, Robert McDonnell in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey, both utilized social media as an integral part of their campaigns (unfortunately, neither candidate in the NY-23 campaign had much, if any, of a social media presence, but I would suggest that the likely 2010 repeat of this election will be determined by the more successful online campaign…so you’ll be seeing both sides starting now).
In a piece on the lessons learned in the GOP victory in Virginia in the Nov. 5th Washington Post, Ed Gillespie wrote:
“The Obama campaign blazed electronic trails in 2008, and the McDonnell campaign sought to adapt to the new contours, beginning with an online announcement of his candidacy and a message to “Text VA to GOBOB” on banners and yard signs. Between social media networks, texting and e-mail, the campaign was regularly in direct contact with more than 200,000 voters — impressive, especially given the low turnout on Election Day. In addition to the campaign’s efforts, the Republican Party of Virginia did an excellent job of driving coverage and perceptions of Deeds through creative Web videos.”
And according to a recent piece in The Richmond Times-Dispatch:
“McDonnell had outspent Deeds more than 5-to-1 through Oct. 21 on Web, e-mail and blog-related expenses, which include online advertising, according to Virginia Public Access Project data.”
Clearly, McDonnell learned from the Obama campaign that online spending and web 2.0 authenticity (posts on Twitter need to come from both campaign staff and the candidate) are vital and can be used effectively in Virginia. The Obama campaign spent close to $8 million online, but also had a large online organizing staff that was fully integrated into the campaign strategy. This second point is vital and more important than simply buying ads: the base of supporters that are garnered online must feel as if they are part of the process, both online and offline, opposed to simply being asked for money.
Up in NYC, Mayor Bloomberg squeaked by and their robust social media push (some of whom are Facebook friends of mine) were changing their status in support of the Mayor on the day of the election, which shows an understanding by the campaign of the viral effect a simple message can have on an undecided voter’s decision as they go to the polls. It’s telling that with billions of dollars at his disposal to spend as the campaign saw fit, Bloomberg (and his advisors) still spent more than $2 million for online ads, or about 2.5 percent of the $85 million the campaign has disclosed it spent on the race.
Of course, spending money online is a primary element of the overall strategy required to win 2010 hearts, minds and votes. More important than simply spending money on online ads is the investment in the human team and knowledge resources dedicated to robust social media and web 2.0 strategies, fully integrated into a traditional campaign’s communication goals. A social collaboration between the candidate (and campaign) and the constituency is the best way to garner votes.
As the 2010 election cycle now gets fully underway, it is clear that technology and web 2.0 strategies are not limited to one party and in fact, as these tools are increasingly being used on a daily basis by Americans of all types (i.e. constituents/voters), I suggest every candidate (whether an incumbent or challenger) make sure social media and web 2.0 communications is an authentic part of the campaign from day one. Your (future) job depends on it; just ask Virginia and New Jersey’s shiny new governors.
Lee Brenner is a social media strategist and co-founder of FastFWD Group, a web 2.0 communications and strategy firm. He was previously the Political Director at MySpace and was a Senior Producer at CNN.