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Election Tech: Let's get vertical - how presidential campaigns use data and social media to microtarget voters

Three campaign social media marketing innovations that can help amplify your message and keep your brand top-of-mind.

Social media is an essential tool for helping political campaigns reach large audiences, better understand how constituents feel about issues, and keep candidates top of mind with voters.

In 2012, the social web—particularly Facebook and Twitter—went mainstream and helped the Obama campaign win reelection by connecting with a younger and more engaged audience. This cycle, the campaigns are getting more sophisticated as social platforms have matured, diversified, and gone mobile. The campaigns are vertically targeting social networks and using analytics to fine-tune their messaging.

Here are three ways campaigns using social media to amplify their brands and convert voters.

SEE: Social Media and Web Usage Policy Template [Tech Pro Research]

1. Vertical social media has arrived

The Cruz, Sanders, and the Clinton campaigns are particularly adept at creating "vertical social media," content tailor-made for individual social networks. The days of blasting a generic message to a broad audience across several different social networks at the same time are over. Social media has gone mobile and fragmented, and each audience is unique to its particular platform. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are still priorities, but Snapchat, Instagram, and Peach have emerged as the best way to reach young voters.

New Jersey Senator and Clinton surrogate Cory Booker recently used the campaign's Snapchat account to endorse Clinton and then discuss issues that matter to young voters.

"The crossover between the audience on Snapchat and the audience on Instagram is pretty high," said a Clinton campaign representative, "but they respond to different content in different ways. On both we hope to forge an emotional connection with [Secretary Clinton], but the Snapchat audience is more intimate, and Instagram is way more quirky."

Snapchat, said the surrogate, allows staffers to tell longer, episodic stories that humanize Clinton, whereas Instagram followers often help content go viral by sharing photos and video with the broader web.

2. Data refines the social media process

Data is the political campaign metagame. Most of the major campaigns use analytics to help refine the types of content digital teams produce. It's not enough to simply upload content in bulk to major social networks. Staffers analyze social network data and perform sentiment analysis. Voter information coupled with social media data allows digital teams to refine messaging on-the-fly.

The parties sell campaigns basic voter registration data, and firms like L2 Politics, NGP VAN, and NationBuilder sell software and information that help campaigns interpret voter data into everything from Tweet copy and Instagram videos, to the scripts used by canvassers.

During prime media events like debates, the major campaigns use in-house data tools to surface conversations from influencers on social media, and often encourage surrogates to chatter about and retweet trending posts that echo the campaigns' message.

SEE: Is tech breaking the 2016 election?

3. Use legacy media to amplify social media

Talk radio seems like an archaic medium to many technologists, yet millions of engaged listeners dial in to news shows every day. Each show, host, and audience is unique, and today's talk radio program uses the social web to strengthen the ties between host and audience.

Campaigns, in turn, try hard to book candidates and surrogates as guests on prominent shows, because of the deep connection listeners have with show hosts. Hosts and guests spar with each other, and with the audience on-air, and online. On-air discussion flows to social media platforms between episodes.

More and more listeners stream radio programs using mobile apps. "The listeners really let me have it," chuckled one host after his show at last week's New Hampshire primary radio row. "It's a little combative, to be honest with you, but Twitter is like an always-on [telephone] call-in line."

In the same way, companies can look to extend conversations from their blogs, executive interviews, and official channels into social media as way to drive deeper engagement with customers—with the hope of eventually turning them into fans and evangelists.

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About

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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