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Campaigns, persuasion and a dash of social media

3 min read

Brands & Campaigns

Perhaps you saw me on C-Span last week — or at least the back of my head as I sat scribbling notes on your behalf during a thought-provoking discussion of new media in the 2008 presidential race.

Hosted by Interactive Advertising Bureau Public Policy head Mike Zaneis and ClickZ Senior Editor Kate Kaye,  the conversation explored the strategy and effects of online ads on “persuasion” (Washington’s equivalent of branding), fundraising, and get-out-the-vote efforts.

The panelists agreed: The ’08 election was a historic turning point for online ad targeting in that politics has caught up with commerce. Dynamic ad-placement technologies merged geographic targeting with voter registration info and user data from sites like Yahoo, AOL and MSN to enable candidates to display pinpointed messages online – and adjust them based on a user’s behavior. It’s official: everyone’s doing it!

The difference between the presidential candidates’ new media approaches offers an important lesson for the corporate world: Online is not a strategy in and of itself.

McCain’s Web activities, while managed deftly by Connell Donatelli, were cut off from the rest of the campaign. The online team wasn’t privy, for instance, to information that might explode the next day — and that might have been defused by setting up search keywords and the like. Consequently, the on- and offline messages ended up being out of sync.

The Obama online team, led by MSHC’s Emily Williams, was in house and integrated into the overall campaign strategy. That meant that analytic data from all aspects of the campaign was communal rather than compartmentalized. (Tip of iceberg alert: more fascinating new media lessons from the ’08 presidential campaign are here.)

Although the panel only touched on social networks, they did underscore that the key to marketing via social media is understanding the suite of tools and matching each with overall goals. Both campaigns used CRMs and other mechanisms to identify “supervolunteers” and manage relationships with them. There was a lot of success using e-mail lists to mobilize existing communities, recruit people and put social influencers to work. Likewise, all ’08 candidates got great bang for their buck advertising on Facebook.

CampaignGrid founder Jeff Dittus singled out the slick Obama iPhone app that empowered users to message everyone in their address book and send voicemails, quasi robo-dial style. This was a great way to use technology to connect one human with another.

After the event, I caught up with Epolitics editor Colin Delaney whose message to all of us is that the most important thing for politicians and businesses alike is to get out there and DO SOMETHING in the social media space. So much of this outreach is incremental and you can’t build it overnight, so the earlier you start building your network, the better.

Update: Pew Internet & American Life Project just released a broader report on the role of the internet in the ’08 election finding that, for the first time, more than 50% used the Web to get involved in the political process.  A turning point indeed.