Many experts and non-experts alike are asking themselves the same question – how did U.S. president Barack Obama get reelected? No other president in the U.S. history has managed to get reelected with the country in such a bad economic state and with such high unemployment rates. So how did he do it? How did he beat a specialist in economy, who many believe has what it takes to get the country out of this situation?
There’s no question about it – social media was at the heart of both the candidates’ campaigns. And, by looking at Obama and Romney’s numbers on social media, it seems quite clear who the winner is, by far. So we have to ask ourselves, could social media be the reason why Obama got reelected? And if so, how did he do it?
Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager hinted at the campaigns’ social media plans in an interview with Newsweek, ever since January 2012: “Our efforts on the ground and on technology will make 2008 look prehistoric”, he said. And so they did, we say.
As you can see, there is no doubt about it – Obama is the clear social media king. The differences between the numbers of likes, followers and views of the two candidates are staggering. But it isn’t just about the numbers; it is also about the engagement of the followers with the candidates. This translates perfectly to businesses, as well. Even if your business has thousands of followers on Twitter, it won’t do your business any good if they aren’t interested in you and your product and they don’t engage with you.
In Obama’s case, he showed that it is possible to have a large number of followers, and to engage with a large proportion of them at the same time. Of course, he is the president of the U.S., which gives him a bit of an advantage. But this doesn’t mean that businesses can’t learn a lot from his social media campaign.
Both candidates focused on the three biggest social media platforms as part of their campaigns: Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Obama, however, also took to Reddit, a very popular social news website, on two occasions: once for an AMA (ask-me-anything), where any of the website’s users could ask him any question and he would answer in real time and again on election day, to urge people to vote.
The two candidates also took to social media to urge people to go out and vote. Obama, however, was more convincing than Romney. The Republican candidate sent out only one tweet to his followers telling them to go vote: “With your help, we will turn our country around and get America back on the path to prosperity. Please vote today”. Obama, on the other hand, sent tweets during the entire election day, even as some polls were starting to shut down in different states and also asked the people that were staying in very long lines (some were four hours long) not to give up. He also went on Reddit again and told the “reddit-ers”, “I’m checking in because polls will start closing in this election in just a few hours, and I need you to vote.”
The two candidates had very different styles of communicating with their audience on social media. For example, Obama preferred to communicate more by text, either with links or just text, while Romney communicated using more photos and videos to communicate with his followers. Many of Romney’s posts were Obama-centered, while only 14% of Obama’s posts were focused on Romney. So how does this relate to businesses? For example, posting a lot more photos than text could give the impression of being more impersonal than taking the time to write a message for your audience. Also, focusing a lot on “slamming” your competition rather than on the qualities that make you unique could make you seem unsure of your own capabilities, and even spiteful.
This does not mean that Romney’s campaign was a complete failure. Rather, his engagement did not relate as well with his online supporters, compared to Obama and he was also not as personal and direct. He also made good use of Facebook marketing, making inspired Sponsored Results, that led to him gaining Facebook likes at twice the rate of Obama.
Social media helps us see more sides of the two candidates, which makes the election seem fairer for the public, and more democratic. In theory, the communication between common voters and the candidates is facilitated with the use of social media. The relationship between the two seems closer than ever. But is it always the case in practice? Not necessarily – social media could be used to get votes for the wrong reasons (like a cool president that knows what a meme is).
The 2012 election has become the most tweeted event in the U.S. political history, even before Obama’s reelection was announced. And, once the victory was clear, Twitter saw an average of 327,453 election-related tweets a minute. This makes it even clearer – social media is an essential part of any marketing campaign, no matter if you are a small business, a Hollywood star or a presidential candidate. Businesses have a lot to learn from the two candidates’ campaigns, both do’s and don’ts.
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