For some reason, political pundits are finding it difficult to understand why Barack Obama is getting more of the "youth vote" in the Democratic presidential primaries than Hillary Clinton. Time and time again, the polls show that without a doubt, the youth base has been energized by Barack Obama. While this base could help him win the Democratic nomination, it cannot be assumed that it will automatically move over to the Clinton camp, should Obama lose.
For some reason, political pundits are finding it difficult to understand this. If you know anything about the online marketing world (since you are reading this article, I'm going to make the assumption that you know more than the average political pundit), you've probably come to realize that our industry is playing a major factor in this youth vote.
No longer is it just a TV advertisement, a radio ad or a full-page ad in the local city newspaper that is influencing the youth vote. Heck, it's not even MTV that is affecting the youth vote anymore. It is the world of social media that is having the greatest effect on energizing that youth vote.
Online Social Media Is Shaping Perceptions of Candidates
Social media is having a significant impact on these campaigns with not only how they are getting the word out to their supporters, but how they are perceived by the Democratic party. There are some very key, very significant differences in how each candidate is using social media, and also just how involved they are with the communities. When Barack Obama's campaign uses the social media outlets it has truly cultivated, it can help to close a 15 percentage point gap in the polls.
I live in Pennsylvania. You can only imagine the fervor that is happening here in the political space right now, it is literally nonstop. Back in March, right after the "2nd Super Tuesday", Hillary Clinton was up by at least 15 percent in the polls in Pennsylvania, some polls had her at 22 percent.
Last week, I did some digging around for new poll numbers. Hillary Clinton's lead has shrunk significantly according to Rasmussen Reports (Clinton 47% to Obama 42% with an error of +/- 5%), and looking at Public Policy Polling's results, Obama has actually overtaken Clinton in Pennsylvania. How did this happen?
I've been watching both of these candidates closely, especially what they are doing in the online arena, and I have to say that Barack Obama's team is much more "on their game" when it comes to this medium. Our voter registration offices here in PA have been buzzing about the record number of younger registrants. By watching both candidates closely and examining what they are doing in the online space, you can begin to understand why one is totally captivating the youth vote, and the other is not.
Hillary Clinton's Social Media Usage
Let's take a look at the Clinton campaign's use of social media. As you can see from the screen capture, Hillary's campaign has gotten all the "top name" social media sites. Great, that's awesome, right? Well, not really when you start to think about where that youth vote really has migrated to, and also when you are only using it as another place to drop your blog entries and press releases and not utilizing the social media site as a way to engage your community.
Figure 1: Hillary Clinton's Social Media Communities
Consistently the Clinton campaign utilizes social media outlets to speak "at" the community. It appears that like so many big businesses, they consistently try to control the message. They do not engage the community on any of these media, or if they do it's very rare and usually a very sterile message.
Even the videos on YouTube are all "controlled." It's very tough to find a "candid" video within the Clinton channel. It's tough to find the "real" Hillary Clinton in any of these social networks, one that isn't primped, proper and appearing to just sell you the "spin". Spin doesn't work in social media, and while the numbers of subscribers to her profile are pretty high in these social communities, they pale in comparison to Barack Obama's.
Barack Obama's Social Media Usage
Barack Obama's subscriber (or friend) numbers in the social media networks are usually double that of Clinton's, and sometimes even triple Clinton's numbers. Obama's campaign has also taken another step that Clinton hasn't: opening up the campaign's reach into smaller, more "niche" communities than the "top" social media sites always mentioned in the press. These niche communities hold more passionate and dedicated communities members, because unlike their more "commercial" counterparts, they seem to have less marketing being shoved in front the members' eyeballs.
Figure 2: Barack Obama's Social Media Communities
Take a look at the social communities that Barack promotes. He reaches into African-American, Asian, Latino and even faith-based communities. He goes beyond MySpace and Facebook, and his campaign team holds actual conversations with members. They write new blog posts in their profile areas, not just dump their blog posts from their official campaign site into the community. On YouTube, you can find the "controlled" type videos for Barack Obama, but you can also see candid videos, where his team just goes out with a video camera and captures "real" moments.
Marketing a Presidential Candidate in Social Media
Just like with business and marketing, in social media it is about being "real." And let's face it, political campaigns are about marketing a candidate. You can't control the message, especially in social media communities dominated by a youthful market that hates to be marketed to. You can't just regurgitate the same stuff on your blog and shove it into a community and expect them to get energized by that. Obama's campaign has really stepped it up in this department, and it's why the youth vote is squarely behind him and won't translate over to Clinton.
Business lessons can certainly be learned by examining what each candidate's campaign teams have done in the social media space. Knowing how to engage and energize certain communities around your message is vital; just ask Barack Obama how he closed that 15 percentage-point gap in Pennsylvania in a month's time.
Liana "Li" Evans is the director of Internet marketing at KeyRelevance. Liana has been active in the search marketing arena since 1999. She is well-versed in many areas of search marketing, with a particular focus on natural search optimization, vertical search, social media, and word-of-mouth marketing. She has also become well-versed in requirements of the retail industry segments that are regulated by the FTC. Liana also publishes the Search Marketing Gurus blog, and is a regular speaker at Search Engine Strategies events.