The vast array of Republicans vying for their party’s presidential nomination provides plenty of fodder for comedians, but it could also yield a long-term digital boon for the right.
With so many campaigns jockeying for position, at least some may try to push the technological bleeding edge. In the process, they could develop a new round of tools that advance the entire field of digital organizing.
It won’t be easy. Creating ground-breaking technology is a heavy lift for campaigns desperate to break out of the pack. Most will likely find the challenges of day-to-day campaigning more than enough work without worrying about running a tech startup. While the odds of a great leap forward may be low, the steady slog of cranking out fundraising emails, placing online ads and feeding Facebook pages will have its own benefits.
As 270 Strategies' Betsy Hoover pointed out during a recent Politico Campaign Pro event, Republican campaigns will be training plenty of new staffers over the next few months. They’ll eventually be turned loose early in the primary season as the presidential field narrows. After that, they'll be free to take their new skills to down-ballot candidates or put them to work for the eventual nominee.
Digital Democrats are well aware of how a similar dynamic played out on the Left in 2008, when a long primary fight forced the Obama campaign to develop new organizing technologies and build out an Internet operation of unprecedented scale.
One result: A pool of skilled staff and a set of consulting firms that now form a major part of the robust Democratic digital campaign ecosystem. Will Republicans see a similar boost from the 2016 race?
Hillary Clinton's on LinkedIn. What About Your Campaign?
The Clinton campaign recently attracted notice for publishing an article on LinkedIn that promoted her small-business agenda. She's also hopped onto rising social channels like Instagram and taken to Twitter's Periscope video-streaming app. What about your campaign?
The Clinton operation can afford to branch out, of course, since it’ll end up with a digital staff that’ll number in the hundreds. Down-ballot candidates won't have the resources to be everywhere, so they'll almost certainly need to focus on social outlets like Facebook, which has the widest reach.
Still, campaigns should at least consider a basic Instagram and LinkedIn strategy. The former is essentially a medium for photographs, which campaigns should be filling their Facebook pages with anyway. If time's available (the critical question), why not post the same photos to Instagram simultaneously?
While most campaigns won't publish an article like Clinton's on LinkedIn, they should at least pay attention to their candidate's own LinkedIn profile and connections. Also note that LinkedIn advertising can be targeted by people's professions, making it useful to reach select audiences with the right messaging.
On a related note, we saw the first known political ad on Snapchat in June, though it was issue-focused rather than for a campaign. Still, it's a sign that political advertisers will try just about any channel they can find, if they think it’ll give them an advantage.
Tracking the Presidential Pack on Social Media
Regardless of what the presidential candidates publish on social media themselves, millions of us will take to Twitter and Facebook to promote, mock or otherwise discuss them. These myriad online conversations will help to shape many people's impressions of the campaigns. They’re an important — if largely underground — part of the race.
The new PEORIA project ("Public Echoes Of Rhetoric In America") at GWU's Graduate School of Political Management aims to bring those conversations into the spotlight. Using social media-monitoring tools developed by Zignal Labs, the project will measure the volume and tone of online discussion around the various campaigns through the 2016 cycle.
Their first report examined the initial batch of campaign launches, noting that Ted Cruz received a big burst of attention when he launched his bid well before his rivals. Rand Paul also saw a spike of discussion when he formally debuted, but in both cases the negative comments outweighed the positive ones quickly thereafter.
By contrast, Clinton's online "echo effect" was large and positive. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, was a late-bloomer: he barely moved the needle when he launched, but social media commentary built up fast and favorable. Look for more from the PEORIA project in the months to come.