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4 social-media lessons from the 2010 election cycle

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Brands & Campaigns

This post was written by Roy Temple, a political consultant at Cassidy Digital Strategies.

In 2008, the buzz in political circles about social media largely centered on the Obama campaign’s mastery and dominance of social platforms. But in 2010, folks across the political spectrum and up and down the ballot truly embraced social media.

During the 2010 election cycle, the size of the social-media audience grew so large and the amount of time spent on social media by average citizens was so great that it could no longer be ignored by campaigns — a judgment also being made by an increasing number of businesses, both large and small.

Here are a few lessons learned from political campaigns that had social-media success this cycle that would serve social-media advocates inside business equally well:

  1. The right metrics matter —  and so does the quality of online discussions. A quick check of the follower and fan counts on Twitter and Facebook prior to Election Day might have led you to believe that Sharron Angle was headed to victory over Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid. But as Fast Company reported, analytics tool Crimson Hexagon showed that in the run-up to the election, pro-Reid and anti-Angle opinions made up 55% of the relevant chatter on Twitter, while pro-Angle and anti-Reid opinions made up 45% of the relevant tweets. Reid won with 50.2% of the vote. It’s the quality of the conversations, not just the quantity, that matters.
  2. Discipline and focus, even in the midst of a firestorm, can pay significant dividends. In 2009, when Republican Rep. Joe Wilson stood on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and shouted, “You lie,” during a speech by President Barack Obama, some mainstream press reports would have led you to believe it was a huge mistake. However, the controversy quickly moved online and with an aggressive and well-organized online effort, Wilson converted the controversy into an online fundraising haul of $2.7 million. Wilson won on Election Day with almost 54% of the vote. Gaffes and controversies can be turned to your advantage if you are agile and organized online.
  3. What happens in social media doesn’t necessarily stay in social media … but that’s OK if it’s part of your strategy. When the the Senate campaign of Carly Fiorina rolled out the now infamous “demon sheep” online video, Washington pundits roared with derision. However, the Fiorina campaign was focused on a very specific audience — a small slice of the overall electorate — primary voters in California. The video bounced from the Web onto cable networks, where conservative California primary voters saw it and absorbed its key message. Fiorina won her primary over Tom Campbell with 56% of the vote. It always pays to know your ultimate intended audience.
  4. Different organizations use the same tools and events differently. As many people know, during the Senate debate over repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy restricting service of gays in the military, Lady Gaga took to YouTube and Twitter. She and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had a robust social-media effort for his re-election campaign, tweeted back and forth. After that exchange, Reid’s Twitter following nearly doubled.
    Not everyone has the natural reach of Lady Gaga, but that doesn’t mean social media can’t still be effective. Ellie and Lauren, two college students from Colorado, posted a video of themselves calling into Sen. Michael Bennet’s office to weigh in on the same topic. The very next day — practically the speed of light in terms of constituent responses — Bennet was personally responding to them with a YouTube video of his own. Though you may have to use it in slightly different ways, you can use social media whether you are a rock star, two college students, a small startup or a well-funded, highly visible organization.

What other lessons can businesses learn from the 2010 election cycle?