Election process bolstered by maturing social media efforts

Social media is not new to the presidential race, but elevating the way it's used to garner better information and more targeted results is.

Social media is not new to the presidential race, but elevating the way it's used to garner better information and more targeted results is.

"It's not what's new," explains David Almacy, SVP, Edelman Digital, based in Washington, DC, "but how to use existing tools in new, more mature ways."

Lane Bailey, president of public affairs at GolinHarris, agrees.

"There will be a refinement of the use of analytical modeling," he notes, to identify and target voters based on their voting records and preferences. From there, he adds, political campaigns can send customized messages to voters via social media and other platforms to speak with voters in their own language.

Evolving impact on politics

During CNN's recent June GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire, viewers could link directly to exclusive content on their mobile phones via QR codes that were viewable on TV screens. The audience was given access to videos, photos, and links to articles and could participate in the debate by submitting questions.

On July 6, President Obama held a Twitter town hall. Questions were posed by using the #AskObama hashtag or through the askobama.twitter.com website. An official Twitter account was set up, @townhall, where users could find regular updates. To prepare, Vice President Joe Biden's office sent out its first tweet on July 4.

Gauging support
By gathering data on what organizations a voter belongs to, the shopping he or she does, the voting frequency, and the political bent of the district in which the voter resides, companies that develop voter profiles claim they can determine with up to 90% accuracy who he or she will support and where the voter stands on key issues, adds Bailey.

"If you're running a campaign, you don't waste your time now seeing 100 potential voters," says Bailey, who was chief of staff for Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) for 22 years. Rockefeller is now the state's senior senator and had been governor. "It makes campaigns more efficient and spending money more efficient, as well."

Smartphones and the relevant platforms are also tools that will gain a larger foothold in upcoming races. By one estimate, half the US population will own smartphones by next year, compared with 10% in 2008 during the last presidential election and 20% during the 2010 midterms.

Next year, voters can expect to receive more text blasts from candidates, which will be tailored to the voter. Also, in the smartphone arena, politicians themselves may increasingly produce their own mobile apps.

President Barack Obama's re-election site already offers a free iPhone app. There are also mobile apps about some of his potential GOP opponents, though they are neither free nor produced by the candidates' campaigns. Apps can be downloaded through iTunes, produced by Politically Mobile, for 99 cents each of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), who claims disinterest in a White House run now. The company also offers an app called the Tea Party Memo for the same price.

The value of mobile apps to a political campaign isn't lost on Jennifer Jacobson, director of PR and social media for the consumer electronics sales and review site Retrevo.com. "Users of iPhones are the most digitally connected of all smartphone users," she says. "It would be smart for candidates to have iPhone apps."

Mobile apps generated by campaigns allow the staff to manage the dialogue, as well as post the candidate's accomplishments and schedule. They are also valuable for reporters on the move who need to have at hand the salient facts of a politician's record, positions, background, and any news related to the candidate.

Online ad benefits
Online advertising will get a boost in next year's election, as well. For instance, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, for which GOP strategist Karl Rove is an adviser, is aiming to raise $120 million for the 2012 elections and will dedicate a larger percentage to online advertising than it did in the 2010 midterms, says Jonathan Collegio, the organizations' communications director.

He added that while they've found voters aren't necessarily interested in clicking on political ads, when an online user scrolls over an ad, it's still useful: The ad will play for 15 seconds, which gives the person online exposure to the candidate and allows the campaign to collect data about the potential voter.

Collegio agrees with Almacy and Bailey that the next year in politics will be one of increasingly targeted campaigning, which will employ social media, but with a new maturity designed for more effective results.

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