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Refuting the ‘Social Media Hangover’ at Political Conventions

Please excuse this IABer’s arrogance when she says: the experts got it wrong.

After Tampa and Charlotte, the reports came flooding in “social media revolution failed,” “Parties still need physical convention,” and “will social media ever live up to its promise?”

But if you know what I mean when I say #eastwooding, read no further, you probably already get everything I am about to highlight.

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For some reason, just like novice mobile marketers, the pundits looked to social media to replace the political norms, and missed the true Holy Grail. Just as a successful cross platform marketing campaign reaches the consumer as they move throughout their day, in different contexts utilizing both old and new, social media supplements the convention and campaign platform, it is not there to replace it. Breaking down the walls did not simply mean to host a virtual convention, rather, it’s a tool to expand audience and break down access barriers.

Let’s be honest, while baby boomers and beyond are still happy to find a couch during prime time TV, up and coming generations are highly mobile (and I don’t mean by device), they are cord cutters, and they consume a lot of information and entertainment through multiple platforms and services, at the time convenient for them.

Social media is our Where Brother Art Thou’s tin can and soapbox. It’s retail politicking. How in a modern national campaign do you recreate the glad handing, baby kissing, and storytelling necessary for intimate, voter engagement?  Accessibility and communication.

Kal Penn’s call for #sexyface wasn’t just a funny gimmick; it created an opportunity for engagement.  Voters like to feel as though they are a part of the process and in on the secret. It took less than an hour for #sexyface to trend on Twitter.  While an unintended consequence, @InvisibleObama had tens of thousands of followers in the first hour, 40,000 by the next morning.

And this raises a separate question that has yet to truly unfold: measuring social media’s impact.  Some argue in order for social media to be successful, it must be organic. On this point, the two campaigns seem to be diverging, and we will be presented with two case studies by year’s end. Last week, the Romney campaign was the first political campaign to purchase a paid promotion on Twitter. Consider, the President clocks in over 19.6 million followers to the Governor’s 1.1 million.

Campaign strategies aside, the beauty of social media at the conventions this year was its seamless integration - it was universally present, yet invisible - like any great technology should be. From delegates swiping badges to update their Facebook timeline, Eventbrite check-ins, to the hottest ticket in town literally: lattes in the Google Media Lounge, to Convention real-time apps, and Tweet-ups. The experts failed to realize social media at the conventions wasn’t a replacement, but an enhancement.

The 2008 Presidential and 2010 Midterms were just the beginning.  We are only beginning to see the tipping point, and there will be mistakes, flaws, and downright failures as campaigns navigate the best way to put these tools to use.  I am often pointed to the Veep App as evidence social media and technology platforms don’t work for political.  The much-vaunted Veep App would be the first place for voters to find news on the Governor’s announcement for a VP candidate.  Unfortunately for the App, and the campaign, that news broke before the App could.  And it is true; campaigns must have controlled messaging, and esoterically will remain unchanged for the near future.  But don’t shoot the App, campaign leaks are tech-agnostic.

And we’re just scratching the surface. Be sure to join us this year at the IAB MIXX Conference & Expo as some of the smartest minds in media and political discuss the “Digital Election” and examine how the Internet will decide the Presidency this year. To find out more, please visit http://www.iab.net/mixx/agenda.

About the Author

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Sarah Hudgins

Sarah Hudgins is Director, Public Policy, IAB. Follow her @SarahAHudgins.