HOW Interactivity is Changing The Campaign Trail

27 09 2009

In my last post, we saw an example of the “groundswell” in action and evidence that the modern American public is seeking interactivity in politics. Given this insight, we will investigate HOW this psychographic change is impacting politicians on the campaign trail.

In less than six weeks, my home state of Virginia will head to the polls to elect a new governor. As most gubernatorial races prove to be, the battle between Creigh Deeds (D) and Bob McDonnell (R) has been largely orchestrated by grassroots politics. This concept, explained simply in Hank Wasiak’s February blog post, acknowledges the power that lies in the hands of individuals and communities when they choose to get engaged; in this case, the power to carry a candidate into office.

When politicians choose to run for state or local politics, a strong grassroots organization is vital. In Joe Garecht’s blog Local Victory, he discusses the mistakes candidates often make in developing this network. Garecht explains the importance of targeting the audience you need to reach with his example of a politician shaking hands outside of a grocery store; blindly implementing a campaign plan without considering the audience is a waste of both time and money.

Garecht’s insight transcends to the political arena emerging online with social media. While new media can be an effective way to reach groups that may be otherwise inaccessible, posting daily tweets on Twitter or registering for a Facebook is a waste of time if your audience isn’t active in these communities.

Considering this, it is interesting to examine the social media activity of both candidates in Virginia’s gubernatorial race. Both McDonnell and Deeds have aggressive presences on Twitter, a social media site which Nielsen Wire studies have shown is dominated by working adults ages 35-49.

By keeping up to date on each of the candidate’s Twitters and reading Project Virginia’s blog on the topic, it is interesting to see a difference in how each of the candidates use this media. Deeds in particular has focused his tweets on his personal life, establishing a relationship with his followers by discussing his family and his feelings as he continues on the campaign trail. He has also used this medium to rally his followers together by tweeting criticisms of his opponent and encouraging them to take action in online petitions.

McDonnell has focused his tweets more heavily on his future plans for Virginia and fundraising, but I was also very surprised to see that he (or perhaps a member of his campaign team) was actually posting tweets during a live debate with Deeds to criticize what his opponent was saying in the conversation.

This brings us back to Garecht’s blog and suggests that perhaps McDonnell is reaching out to two different audiences within the same age group at once; the audience that is watching the debate and one that is surfing online and would have missed what was said in the debate if not for updates on a social media site. The psychographic change in what consumers are looking for is requiring politicians to develop outreach plans for several different groups and meet audiences where they are, but it is also expanding their reach and opening up the possibility to speak to previously unaccessible audiences if they put in the effort.

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2 responses

28 09 2009
Joe Garecht

Sally,

Great points (and glad you had the chance to read our blog).

I’ve found that many, if not most, political candidates at the state-wide level and higher have absolutely no idea about social media and rely on junior staffers or interns to make their decisions for them.

This is a big mistake – the same candidates who spend millions of dollars designing what will be seen on TV assign an unpaid, part-time intern to oversee their social media communications… these staff members usually try to do a good job, but often don’t understand concepts like targeting and how to maintain a consistent message.

Hopefully, campaigns will wake up to the fact that they need to spend at least some money and time developing a great social media presence.

Again, great post!

Joe

29 09 2009
Caroline Blanzaco

Politicians getting involved in social media like Twitter is a great addition to any campaign. It’s good to see that they are making sure that their audiences are in fact on the social media they are targeting because you’re right, otherwise it would be pointless. The importance of making politicians available on social sites is important because it does hit an audience that might otherwise flip past the news covering a speech they gave and other information about the candidates. By being able to “tweet” with your candidate, it gives people the chance to get to know them better and their goals they are trying to accomplish. The fact that they are using Twitter during debates is also interesting and spices up politics, giving audiences a behind-the-scenes look into the debate.

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