Working the Crowd

MPP Global Posted by MPP Global on Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Do you remember the elections when televised debates were brand-new? The candidates were a bit jittery and no one really understood how or if this television-centric focus would impact the election results. It turns out that television and how candidates appeared during debates, interviews and on the election trail became vital in impacting the final results. Each and every gaff, misquote, handshake and rumpled suit were captured by the ever-present television cameras… In the end – television did and has impacted the results of elections worldwide.

And now in 2012, we’re experiencing something very similar, but this time it is not the television cameras – rather it is the keyboard, mobile devices, and camera phones that are making their presence known. While the 2008 American Presidential election was played out in part on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs – the 2012 election was front and center.

Just as every gaff and movement was captured with television cameras in the pre-social media/digital age, now there really is nowhere to hide – thanks to the viral nature of social media. With dedicated social media campaigns behind the candidates and team members tasked with planning and managing Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr accounts – both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama recognised the power of instant communication and most importantly – community.

While the television cameras brought the candidates into our living rooms – there was still a detachment. We couldn’t communicate with these people. Now social media has changed all this. Follow Barack Obama on Twitter and you can reply to, re-tweet, and favourite his Tweets – you can become part of a community of other like-minded folks and  feel that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. Take a look at Facebook – all it takes is a Like and all of a sudden you’re connected to what your chosen candidate is doing, saying or not-saying – and you have a chance to comment and share these words and photos.

What is very interesting is how mainstream media and journalists turned to social media to gauge public opinion, to find sources and to even keep track of what the candidates are doing. The 2012 U.S. election has really highlighted how integral social media has become in establishing public opinion, solidifying a brand and even exposing flaws in thinking.

Consider these numbers:

  • As election results came in, Twitter users tweeted at a rate of 327,452 Tweets per minute.
  • The most popular re-tweeted message of all time in Twitter’s six year history is from President Barack Obama, the words “Four more years” accompanied a photo of the President hugging his wife Michelle Obama. This Tweet was re-tweeted a record 700,000 times. Even more interesting is that this message was Tweeted hours before President Obama took to the stage in Chicago to give his acceptance speech.
  • On Facebook the same photo received more than 3.23 million Likes and over 400,000 Shares.
  • Perhaps most telling was this Tweet from President Obama “This happened because of you. Thank you.”

While social media did not “make” the 2012 election, it did play a central role. People became empowered to share their views and opinions on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogs and other viral sites. Thanks to the immediacy of social media, we could get instant feedback from our peers and community on what our chosen candidate was doing, saying and even thinking.

Social media combined with television has really changed the face of elections. Those of us voting turn to social media to find out the latest news, results and plans of our candidates. And the candidates are using social media to raise awareness of ideas/platforms, to raise funds, to highlight competitor missteps and to monitor public opinion. It will be very interesting to see how social media and mainstream journalism interact with candidates and voters in four years time… hopefully both the candidates, voters and media have learned a few lessons about what works and doesn’t work online.