Using social media to get out the vote


Much has been written about the role of social media in the recent US elections – from debate gaffes exploding instantaneously online to the colossal amount of election related online conversation. (Check out more interesting facts and figures in this post).

But how effective was social media for politicians and who used it well during last week’s elections?

Well it seems that for politics, as with any brand, making the most of social media is all about the quality of engagement with fans rather than simply the number of likes. The Obama campaign has a track record from two elections now of successful online engagement translating to success at the voting booth. They used reams of voter data to engage people at a local level through social media and encourage them to vote. Contacts, for instance, received private Facebook messages from the campaign encouraging them to get friends to vote or to stay in voting lines on Election Day.

The campaign also designed apps to help volunteers door-knock and register voters, mobilising an effective grassroots campaign. Given that both the Obama and Romney campaigns had extensive social strategies it seems the President’s edge with using big data to mobilise their base via social media may have been the difference between the two.

But it wasn’t just Obama who benefited from using social media wisely. A study by website Politico found that the majority of House and Senate races last week were won by the candidate who had a greater level of engagement with their Facebook fans even where they had less fans in total than their challenger. Even more impressive:

in 11 of the 15 competitive House races where incumbents lost on Tuesday, the challenger enjoyed an engagement advantage over the incumbent

The authors argue that those candidates who used Facebook creatively to engage and energise their fan base on social media enjoyed a “Facebook bump” in the form of higher votes on Election Day. While you can argue the possible size and influence of this “Facebook bump” the study does emphasise the importance of quality engagement between a politician and their Facebook fans in energising their base and rallying support for their cause.

What does this mean for future elections both in the US and around the world?

With more and more of the world’s population getting on social media and spending more and more of their time on there, politicians who embrace social media, use the data intelligently, and engage with their constituents online in meaningful and creative ways stand to enjoy clear benefits. With some even predicting that the first entirely online US election will occur in 2024 the spoils are only more likely to go to the most social candidates.

In Australia, with a national election looming next year, the Labor Government seems to be catching on and is looking at employing some of the Obama campaign’s social strategies. We’ll have to wait and see though whether they actually genuinely attempt to engage with and empower their supporters using social media and whether this translates into electoral success.

Is social media coming of age in politics? How do you think politicians should be using it?