Now that a majority of Americans consider social media a credible information source, campaigns will have to do a better job of branding themselves in 2013 and beyond. According to the 2012 social media survey conducted by ORI and George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM), 63 percent of respondents said the quality of information on social media is equal to or better than the information on traditional news channels. And that number jumped to 71 percent when participants under age 25 were considered.
“To think that Jack Welch, Donald Trump, the president and the pope are now all communicating with their global audiences using a free online platform that constrains them to 140 characters—that really is a profound and radical shift in how these tools are being used,” said John Kagia, director of strategy and insight at ORI, at the survey’s Thursday launch panel, which took place at the National Press Club.
“When you have people of that caliber on these platforms, it significantly increases the perceived credibility of the overall content on these sites.” Jonathan Collegio, communications director for American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, noted that President Obama’s campaign took advantage of social media as an information source to provide followers glimpses of the candidate’s character.
The strategy, he said, is ideal for engagement. “[Obama for America] had a robust social media effort, which was purely viral, and much of that was personality-based,” Collegio said. “And many good social media—viral media—campaigns are generally centered around personality.”
Unfortunately for campaigns, accusations hurled by an opponent on Twitter or Facebook are tricky to defend against, said Ruck.us CEO Nathan Daschle, especially when there’s no substance behind them to refute. Those are the sort of charges that can have long lifespans on social media. Still, social media tends to be more self-correcting than traditional news outlets, he added. “Traditional media—it’s very tough to correct factual inaccuracies; social media—it’s a lot easier,” he said. “The problem is very little in politics is facts. So much of it is opinion.”
As a result, campaigns need to be on their guard and work hard to brand themselves on social sites, rather than letting their opponent do it for them. Kagia thinks the Obama campaign was more successful at branding than the Romney campaign in 2012 for two reasons: 1) they had more lead time to prepare between 2008 and 2012 and 2) they had a better understanding of who their audiences were because of their substantial data operation. Neither campaign used data to the fullest, but that model should mature in 2014 and 2016.
“What I observed looking at the Romney campaign is that you have to be much better about the content that you use,” Kagia said. “You have to educate the audience. If you look at the number of infographics Obama posted compared to Romney there’s no comparison.”
The 2012 social election survey also found that 29 percent of voters had their opinions about the presidential candidates influenced by social media—49 percent if only voters ages 26-35 are considered. For this reason, Kagia expects the line between big data and social marketing to become blurred as campaigns look to brand themselves among hyperfocused demographics.
“The ability to use people within your social grid to be proponents for your message, based on data-driven metrics, is going to be very significant,” he said. “Data is going to be the critical factor in the next iteration of this.”