Beyond PR

Oct 17, 2012

Social Media & The Presidential Election

With only a few hours to go before the second presidential debate, a session at the 2012 PRSA National Conference titled “Social Media in the Presidential Election: Its Impact, What We Can Learn” offered timely and interesting insight.

The panel was comprised of:

Joe Garofoli, national political reporter, San Francisco Chronicle –

David Almacy, senior vice president, digital strategies, Edelman PR –

The session was moderated by Lawrence Parnell, public relations program director/associate professor, The Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.

Regardless of one’s political affiliation or interest in political discourse, it is virtually impossible to not be aware of how social media is playing a role in politics and driving forward the messages in the upcoming presidential election.  For the first time in a presidential campaign, Twitter and YouTube usage and engagement have virtually skyrocketed in the sheer number of tweets, re-tweets, followers, and postings about the campaign and recent debates.

Social engagement is clearly working for both campaigns, and producing profound top-line results. Donations from individuals have broken records, and the number of donations between $50 – $100 for both Romney and Obama has never been higher.  Each campaign has invested heavily in staffing around their social and digital strategy and this trend is trickling down to local and regional campaigns.

An area where social media has specifically played a huge impact has been around the debates. During the first Obama/Romney debate there were 10.3 million tweets.  Two weeks later, during the Biden/Ryan vice presidential debate there were 3.5 million tweets.  During the Republican National Convention there were 4.5 million tweets.   The Democratic National Convention had 9.5 Million tweets.  We also saw both campaigns use Twitter to highlight their own points as to who won the debate and highlight specific messages to their constituents.  While these numbers are staggering, what do they really mean? Do we know the sentiment of the tweets?  Do we really know if these tweets impact the result?  Is this information overload and is the electorate becoming smarter and more knowledgeable?

Some key points made by the panelists:

  • Dissemination:  While social media is driving widespread dissemination of content and messaging, there appears to be little dialogue.  Or put another way, lots of distribution of messages but is it impacting the message or opinions of the electorate?  Most data is showing that it is not changing behavior.
  • Campaign websites – Mostly used to drive donations and drive followers to social sites.  They are not focusing enough on driving policy discussions or engagement around the issues.
  • Non-major parties – Green, Libertarian, etc. are doing more with Twitter and Facebook and investing less in their website presence.  They are using Twitter and Facebook to get their message out due to limited resources to pay for media/TV placements.
  • Anonymity – Social media is allowing ‘non-elites’ to drive conversation. Any witty or creative person can post something and make a message go viral.
  • Social Media in campaigns is more about discussing things that have happened vs. driving dialogue about new stories or breaking stories about policy.
  • ‘Knowledge’ is not increasing – There’s a lot of distribution of information and sharing, but is it not driving new opinions or increasing the electorates’ knowledge of the issues.

We know that as social sites continue to grow, all political campaigns will put resources toward their digital strategy.   We also know that the only true test to know if one candidate has a better strategy around Social is who wins on Election Day.

Author Andrew Meranus is PR Newswire’s vice president of new business development & agency relations.

The campaigns are doing a great job of streaming content out to social networks, fueling the conversations that spread their messages and galvanize their constituents.   To learn more about how creating a “brand stream” for your organization can boost visibility for your messages (and the results your communications deliver) read our free white paper,  Earning More Media Through Brand Streaming.

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