Posted November 5, 2012
Campaigns have invested millions of dollars in social media in an effort to drive the conversation
By Dwayne Fontenette, Jr.
Many commentators dubbed the 2008 campaign the “Facebook Election” because of widespread social media use by both major U.S. political parties. The 2012 campaign could be aptly named #Campaign140. In this election cycle, greater attention has been paid to Twitter, where users send concise messages, known as tweets, and retorts in 140 characters or less, complete with hashtags, led by the # symbol, which categorizes topics or keywords.
According to ClickZ, the Romney campaign was the first U.S. presidential campaign in history to purchase a Promoted Trend, the equivalent of a national ad buy. During the Republican National Convention, #RomneyRyan2012 was the campaign’s Promoted Trend, receiving prominent placement on Twitter’s list of trending topics.
Campaigns are purchasing Twitter ads, because effective Twitter use can be lucrative. According to an October 2012 report released by Twitter, the average Twitter user is 68 percent more likely to visit a campaign donation page than the average Internet user. The likelihood of visits to campaign donation pages increases as the number of tweets seen by users increases, further incentivizing campaign Twitter use.
Social media platforms have made adjustments to adapt to the social media-driven political cultures as well. Facebook hired two full-time staffers who serve as liaisons to political campaigns to maximize their effectiveness. One of the Facebook staffers, Associate Manager for Policy, Katie Harbath is a featured political expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Fourth Annual Political Summit, Beyond the Ballot: A Government in Transition. Harbath assists campaigns in the development of their social media strategies.
Both campaigns have invested millions of dollars in online communications in an attempt to drive the public conversation, a greater investment than the last election cycle, as a result of the increased popularity and use of social media platforms.
The increased relevancy of social media to political campaigns is made evident by research done by Harris Interactive on behalf of Digitas in July 2011. The research shows that 82 percent of U.S. adults use social media, and 88 percent of U.S. adult social media users are registered voters. Sixty percent of respondents agreed that they “expect presidential candidates to have a social media presence.” In order to learn more about the presidential candidates, 51 percent of those surveyed said that they would take to social media, including Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter has seen exponential growth in its number of users since the last presidential election cycle. There are now more than 140 million Twitter users in the United States, up from six million in 2008.
Voters’ reliance on social media for campaign news has forced campaigns to respond in real-time to minimize distractions from the campaign’s message. During major media and campaign events both campaigns use Twitter to conduct live fact checks and respond to criticism.
While much attention has been given to social media campaign feuds, Twitter isn’t always a partisan battlefield for the campaigns.
After Alex Okrent, a 29-year-old Obama campaign staffer, died during the summer after collapsing in the Obama for America Chicago campaign office, both campaigns took to Twitter to offer condolences.
“Ann & I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Alex Okrent,” Romney tweeted. “Prayers are with Alex’s loved ones and the entire Obama campaign team.”
David Axelrod, Obama campaign manager, replied, “Thank you, governor. Alex was a beloved member of our team. It’s been a very emotional day.”
This somber exchange was a brief pause from the partisan, lucrative social media exchanges that have dominated #Campaign140.
BPC's Fourth Annual Political Summit: Beyond the Ballot
November 15, 2012
Dwayne Fontenette, Jr. is a senior political science and public relations double major at Loyola University New Orleans. Fontenette serves as a student ambassador to BPC’s Fourth Annual Political Summit.
Annual Political Summit 2012