Winning the Vote on the Web
In the US presidential election, the Web has changed how candidates operate. Tim Hoang reports on how social media has influenced the race for President.
The US Democratic election has been a high on the agenda in newsstands around the world. Will the Democrats vote for its first female presidential nomination or its first African-American? An interesting development of the campaign is how both parties have utilised social media and the Web.
Funding through the Web's Long Tail
A recent article by The Times revealed how Hilary Clinton raised around $20 million in April alone and lead the most successful Democratic fundraising campaigns in history. However, Barack Obama - without the initial clout of the Clintons raised $31 million in the same month due to his savvy handling of the Web and social media, according to some experts.
Above: Obama's Twitter feed has proved popular with US voters
Barack's Friend Requests
Obama's apparent openness was seen as a key factor is gaining support. At the time of writing, his Twitter feed is the third most popular feed in the world with 34,200 followers (source: Twitterholic) and regularly tops the list.
Obama's online video also proved more successful than that of Clinton's. According to Nielsen Online, 518,000 people streamed 828,000 videos from Obama's website in March. This is in comparison with the 351,000 unique viewers who streamed 551,000 videos on Clinton's site.
CRM solutions provider, RightNow, constructed two tools for Obama's campaign which enabled the team to gather feedback from the general public. The first of these was the email response system, Invite Barack. The service handles non-media requests for Barack or a member of his team to attend local events. Any requests are then directed to the most relevant individual, helping streamline the process. Additionally, the system also allows the campaign team to monitor trends in requests and build a picture of voters.
RightNow also helped Obama set up the Obama Answer Center. Questions posed by the voting public can be answered online instantly. They can then be directed to relevant sites or further questions. Again, the tool analyses responses and help the team build a better picture of the voting public. Most importantly it provides another window into the issues voters feel are important.
"Since going live in April 2007, more than 1.11 million people have accessed or used either the Answer Center or Online Invitation solutions on the Obama web site," said Colin Jones, RightNow's senior account executive for the public sector.
"Not since television has something changed the run for the White House as the Internet. And with more and more American's accessing the web and it's youth collaborating via Facebook, MySpace and the like, it is more critical than ever that candidates have an open line of communication to its constituents," he continued.
Hugh Taylor, managing director at integrated and online marketing agency, Grasshopper believes that social media works particularly well in political campaigns because the passion of supporters helps fuel conversations on the Web.
"In the political space most of the channels are controlled by third parties with political bias and opinions (e.g. newspapers and TV channels) and it is important that political parties try and put their views, opinions and policies in its purest form in real time. The online environment is obviously perfect for this and social media lends itself perfectly to spreading this message," said Taylor.
"Social media works best when the user has passion, enthusiasm and genuine belief for a particular product or brand such as a football club. Politics obviously invokes this kind of passion in many people and as such social media has become a key communication tool. It allows politicians to communicate at grassroots level on a fast paced platform.
"In the recent election for the London Mayor, social media started to play a part - it is interesting that Boris had four times as many fans on Facebook as Ken.
"Social networking sites and particularly their group pages are already making a difference and in the US. The use of YouTube, voting buttons for preferences, prioritisation of issues and language options to demonstrate multiculturalism are already important. Data capture, e-CRM and generating donations are also the norm," he commented.
Money Raised Online, Spent Offline
Despite the huge amount of money and support gained through the Internet, it is perhaps surprising to find that the vast majority of advertising spend will be allocated to traditional media channels such as TV. Analyst house, eMarketer estimates that around $50 million will be spent advertising online from political campaigns and advocacy groups. This is compared the $3 billion estimated by Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), a division of TNS Media Intelligence, spent on political advertising on television.
"Over the course of the year, less than 2 per cent of political ad budgets will be spent online. That pales in comparison to the 50 to 80 per cent of the budgets that will be spent on broadcast TV advertising," said Lisa E. Phillips, eMarketer senior analyst and author of the new report, Politics '08 Online: Push Meets Pull.
"Television's ability to push candidates' messages out to a mass audience - and push it fast - makes it the winner for this hotly contested election year," continued Phillips.
Savvy campaigners are using traditional media channels to direct voters to sites where more information can be found and donations can be made.
"The Internet is pulling voters into conversation and interaction with candidates and issues in ways that barely existed in the last presidential election, a mere three-and-a-half years ago. This push-pull model created by political marketers is a tactic marketers in many categories could profit from," continued Phillips.