Three ways 2012 is a social election – and how it affects non-politicos

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Like the Olympics, social media content and conversation is expected to have a big impact on the 2012 election season. As we’re still in the midst of it, it’s not possible to understand its full effects but here are three things to watch for as we head into November – and how what happens in the political world could influence your own social media strategy.

1. Your reach is not enough

Ad Age just published a compare-and-contrast infographic on the use of social media by the two presidential candidates and their surrogates. (The most interesting stat to me was Romney discusses Obama 34% of the time while Obama discusses Romney only 14% of the time.) Ad Age notes the big takeaway here is “how little candidates and their teams are using social media for engagement” and cites a Pew study that shows neither campaign has used social to engage in a true dialogue with voters.

Lessons: Social is not a one-way medium. True engagement requires someone who knows your brand’s voice and can truly communicate. The number of people who follow you isn’t as important as how engaged they are with you – and you with them.

2. It’s the data, stupid *

They’re a bit old but these articles by Slate and Politico on the Obama for America team’s data collection efforts are must-reads on how the campaign is tailoring its message to individual voter groups. From the Slate piece:

“Obama’s team is working to link once completely separate repositories of information so that every fact gathered about a voter is available to every arm of the campaign. Such information-sharing would allow the person who crafts a provocative email about contraception to send it only to women with whom canvassers have personally discussed reproductive views or whom data-mining targeters have pinpointed as likely to be friendly to Obama’s views on the issue.”

CSO Online has a current look at how the Obama and Romney mobile apps are collecting data, including “a user’s device ID, mobile number, carrier, GPS and cell locations.” It demonstrates how campaigns not only want to target a message specifically to you, but specific to your location, even down to the block level.

Lessons: E-mail blasts and other communications that don’t reflect a customer’s interests won’t have value. Tailor your send lists based on the data you have and use customer surveys, events and site registration as opportunities to learn more about your brand’s fans. The future of location-based messaging through mobile is already here.

3. Look beyond the retweet

We hear all the time how social media – especially Twitter – can be an echo chamber: if you only follow people who agree with you or discuss the same three or four topics, an inevitable reality distortion field results from the small sample size. An article at The Guardian discusses how this affects the political realm:

“The filtering out of things we don’t express active interest in means we don’t know it’s happening outside the bubble created by those filters – and turns what should be global broadcasting into personal narrowcasting.”

As campaign surrogates flood the social media-fueled news cycle with the minute, political reporters feel bound to cover the story of the day, when even a flubbed sentence is blown up into a major gaffe and campaigns scramble to respond, distracting them from a central message. (It also leads to cringeworthy moments like David Axelrod pulling this gem out of the “Dad jokes” file.)

Lessons: Follow people whose opinions differ from your own. Your views and beliefs will be more informed when you know the counter-arguments. Don’t get so caught-up in the execution of social that you get distracted from your overall strategy. Understand your competition and how it delivers its message in the social sphere. David Axelrod should keep his day job.

Scott Smith is the Director of Digital Strategy and Development for Chicago magazine. He’s also written and edited for a variety of publications including Time Out Chicago, Chicagoist and Follow him on Twitter: @ourmaninchicago.

* Hat tip to James Carville.

Image via White House Flickr

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