The swirl of post-election analysis has begun to settle, and it's clear: Social media were pivotal in the presidential election of 2012.
Never have they played such a broad, deep role. And they're here to stay. The Romney camp did very well, to be sure - but the Obama camp confounded the smart money and largely, if not fully, repeated the social media-based ground game of 2008, to leave the Romney camp beaten, amazed, and dismayed.
Recall the dizzying 2008 debut of the Obama social media machine. If 2004 was the Year of the Blog, (think: Rathergate), 2008 was the Year of YouTube. Team Obama flooded YouTube with videos, posting more than 1,200 by mid-September, reaching millions of viewers. The forces of Sen. John McCain fought valiantly to catch up, and did well, but they lacked the Obama ground game already in place: Web networks, organizing flesh-and-blood people who worked phones, went door-to-door, person-to-person, eye-to-eye, a hybrid of 21st-century marketing techniques, Web-savvy connectivity, and old-school, Chicago-style, street-level politicking.
Smarting from the losses of 2008, GOP workers created their own massive Obama-style social media network, stoking the brilliant success of 2010, in which the party took control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Election Day 2012 opened with something fresh on Facebook and Twitter: thousands of people, of all parties, declaring they had voted. Cara Rousseau, social media manager at Duke University, says this was especially effective with young voters: "Users logged on to Facebook Tuesday morning to see an 'I voted' box at the top of their news feed, showing poll locations and geographic and age demographics for their friends who voted." The social media site foursquare "had an 'I voted' badge that users could earn by using #ivoted when they checked in to their polling locations."
Obama's forces also had refitted the machine that hummed so musically in 2008. Two words: Big Data. The Obama network now had a database of more than 13 million people, themselves connected, by Web paths easy to trace, to family members, friends, coworkers, acquaintances and neighbors. The network noted what all these points of contacts did, what they liked, what TV they watched, what books, papers, and blogs they read. And they created appeals on all those levels, to all those people.
Between 2008 and 2012, Team Obama created the largest, most comprehensive voter database in history. They farmed it tenderly, quietly, effectively. A New York Times article on Wednesday showed how the team gathered names of undecided voters and undeclared voters with promising profiles.
Kenneth Wisnefski, CEO of Webimax, a social media consulting outfit in Mt. Laurel, said by e-mail that the Obama camp "directly engaged with his follower base in aggressively connecting with them during Election Day" Wisnefski noted that on Election Day, Obama had three of the top 10 Twitter trending topics and Romney none, which demonstrates Obama's dominance and itself "helped shape voters' perception as well."
Common wisdom held that Obama could not repeat his 2008 performance. But as Election Day unfolded, voter turnout in important states outdid expectations. It was not quite at 2008 levels, not in Pennsylvania, not in many places, but neverthless strong.
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